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What You Need to Know About Colorectal Cancer Screening

Colorectal cancer is a common cancer that affects the colon and rectum, the lower part of the digestive system. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. However, with early detection, it is highly treatable, making colorectal cancer screening a vital aspect of colorectal cancer prevention.

Find out more about colorectal cancer screening, including who should be screened, the different screening options available, and what to expect during the screening process in this article.

Who should be screened for colorectal cancer?

The American Cancer Society recommends that individuals with an average risk of developing colorectal cancer begin screening at age 45. Individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer, a personal history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps, or certain genetic conditions that increase the risk of colorectal cancer may need to begin screening earlier.

It is important to discuss your personal risk factors with your healthcare provider to determine the appropriate age to begin screening and how often you should be screened.

What are the different colorectal cancer screening options?

There are several screening options available for colorectal cancer, including:

  1. Fecal immunochemical test (FIT): This test checks for hidden blood in the stool, which can be a sign of colorectal cancer. FIT is a non-invasive test that can be done at home and is recommended annually.
  2. Stool DNA test: This test looks for DNA changes that may indicate the presence of cancer or precancerous polyps. The stool DNA test is also non-invasive and can be done at home, but it is recommended every three years.
  3. Flexible sigmoidoscopy: This test uses a flexible, lighted tube to examine the lower part of the colon and rectum. The test is performed in a doctor’s office and may require a bowel prep. Flexible sigmoidoscopy is recommended every five years.
  4. Colonoscopy: This test uses a long, flexible tube with a camera to examine the entire colon and rectum. The test is performed under sedation in a doctor’s office or outpatient center and requires a bowel prep. Colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years.

What to expect during colorectal cancer screening?

The specific details of the screening process will depend on the type of test you are having, but there are some general guidelines that apply to most screening options.

Before the screening

Before the screening, you may need to follow certain dietary and bowel prep instructions to clean out your colon. This may involve a clear liquid diet and taking laxatives or enemas to empty your colon. It is important to follow these instructions carefully to ensure accurate test results.

During the screening

During the screening, you will be asked to lie on your side or back, and a healthcare provider will insert a small tube or device into your rectum or colon. You may feel some discomfort or pressure during the test, but it should not be painful. If you are having a colonoscopy, you will be sedated and may not remember the procedure.

After the screening

After the screening, you may experience some mild cramping, bloating, or gas. It is important to drink plenty of fluids and rest until the effects of the sedation wear off if you had a colonoscopy.

What are the potential risks and benefits of colorectal cancer screening?

The benefits of colorectal cancer screening include early detection of cancer or precancerous polyps, which can improve the chances of successful treatment and prevent the development of cancer altogether.

However, there are potential risks associated with some screening options, including complications from bowel prep, discomfort during the procedure, and bleeding or perforation of the colon. It is important to discuss these risks with your healthcare provider and weigh them against the potential benefits before deciding on a screening option.