Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, occurs when cells in a part of the body grow out of control in the colon or rectum. Most cancer of the colon or rectum starts out as a polyp, or a growth that starts in the inner lining of the colon or rectum and grows toward the center. Polyps are not cancer, but certain types of polyps can become cancerous. Testing for colon cancer can be a life-saving procedure if done at the right time.
Who should undergo colon cancer testing?
Men and women over the age of 50 should be tested frequently for colon cancer. 90 percent of new cases involving colon cancer occur in people over the age of 50. If a relative has suffered from colon cancer, it’s important to get checked at 40 or 10 years before the earliest occurrence in your family. People with relatives who have suffered from colon cancer have two to three times the risk of developing the disease. People with inflammatory bowel disease or certain inherited conditions may be advised to start frequent screenings sooner than 50.
Jews of Eastern European descent have a higher rate of colon cancer. African-American men have a higher risk and lower survival rate for colon cancer, partly due to disproportionate screening. The risk of death is also increased for Native Americans or Alaskan Natives.
What does colon cancer testing entail?
There are several different types of tests that check for colon cancer. High-sensitivity fecal occult blood tests (FOBT), sigmoidoscopies, and standard colonoscopies are three of the main ways that colon cancer is tested.
- Standard Colonoscopy
?The entire colon and rectum are examined with a colonoscope in this test. The colonoscope is a flexable, lighted tube with a lens for viewing and a tool to remove tissue. Air is pumped into the colon to expand to allow the doctor to see the colon lining more clearly. Abnormal growths are also removed from the colon to allow for biopsy during this test. The difference between a sigmoidoscopy and a colonoscopy is that this test allows for complete view of the colon. The cleansing of the colon is necessary for this test, and it includes a temporary change of diet as well as drinking a liquid that will clear the bowels. Patients are sedated during this test.
- High-sensitivity fecal occult blood tests (FOBT)
Polyps and colorectal cancers can bleed, and this type of test checks for tiny amounts of blood in feces. Two types of FOBT approved by the Food and Drug Administration to screen for colon cancer: guaiac FOBT and the fecal immunochemical test. With both types of FOBT testing, stool samples are collected by the patient and the samples are returned to the doctor.
This test uses a sigmoidoscope to check the “S” loop of your colon and rectum. The sigmoidoscope is a flexible, lighted tube with a lens for viewing and a tool to remove tissue. Abnormal growths can also be viewed and removed for analysis during a sigmoidoscopy.
Before the test, the lower colon must be cleared of stool, but the preparation is much less involved than is required for a colonoscopy. The instrument is inserted through the anus and through the rectum then the “S” part of your colon. Air is then pumped into the colon to expand it so the doctor can see the lining more clearly. Usually, people are not sedated for this test.
How often should someone be tested?
If you have an average risk for colon cancer, starting at the age of 50, you should have a test every five to ten years depending on the method of testing. Sigmoidosocpy should be done every five years. Colonoscopies should be done every 10 years. FOBT tests should be done every year.
If a person has been diagnosed with cancer-causing polyps, he or she should be checked every five to ten years once the polyps have been removed. People with more than three cancer causing polyps or large polyps should be checked every three years. People diagnosed with colorectal cancer should be checked every year.