A stark fact is that colorectal cancer appears all too often, in 5 percent of us, and usually has no symptoms. The good news is that colorectal cancer is treatable, even preventable, with screening beginning at age 50 for average-risk individuals. If you have a history of colorectal cancer in your family, it is important to speak with your doctor about when to start screening as it may be before age 50.

How it starts

Colorectal cancer occurs when a growth (polyp) on the lining of the colon or rectum has grown and becomes malignant or cancerous. There are several screening tests available to detect polyps, and any screening test is better than none. However, as a gastroenterologist, I recommend colonoscopy to my patients because I can examine the entire colon and remove any pre-cancerous polyps during the screening. It prevents, detects and treats colorectal cancer.

"Colorectal cancer is preventable through screening, yet it remains the second leading cause of cancer death for both men and women combined in the U.S."

If you have a clean colonoscopy, which 75 percent of patients do, you won’t need to have another one for 10 years. If polyps are found, your doctor will tell you when you need to be screened again.

Alternatives

If colonoscopy doesn’t feel right, there are other screening options to consider. Several other technologies are available for doctors to analyze your colon and rectum, some of which allow you to be awake during the exam.

Stool-based tests are also an option; they’re reliable and convenient, and you can do them at home. But, you’ll need to do one every year. Keep in mind that if you receive a positive result with any of these screening tests, you will need a colonoscopy to follow up.

Nip it now

At age 50, you have enough on your mind. Don’t let colorectal cancer screening become a stressful decision. Visit a gastroenterologist soon to discuss your screening options and choose the test that is right for you.

Colorectal cancer is preventable through screening, yet it remains the second leading cause of cancer death for both men and women combined in the U.S. Help change the statistics: Get screened. After all, a long, healthy life is the best gift you can ask for.