Director of Mission & Partnerships, Colon Cancer Coalition
You put a lot of things on hold last year — colorectal cancer screening shouldn’t be one of them.
Screening for colorectal cancer is a literal lifesaver. Unfortunately, in 2020, COVID-19 and the resulting lockdowns and healthcare shortages caused many missed and delayed screenings and diagnoses for colorectal cancer.
Health experts fear these delays will mean more late-stage diagnoses, when cancer is harder to treat. Studies also suggest additional deaths from colorectal cancer over the next 10 years. As the nation begins to return to normalcy with the help of vaccinations and a reduction in COVID-19 case counts, it is time to return our attention to cancer screening.
Staying on schedule
The Colon Cancer Coalition follows the American Cancer Society’s recommendations that screening for colorectal cancer should begin at age 45 for average-risk individuals. On-time screening, however, may vary depending on an individual’s personal or family medical history.
The presence of family history, or other risk factors or symptoms of colorectal cancer, should mean colonoscopy screening begins before age 45. Risk factors include a first-degree relative with colorectal cancer or polyps, a relative diagnosed under 50, or more than one relative diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer. A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease also means screening should begin earlier. Individuals with these risk factors should talk to their healthcare provider about when they should begin screening.
With a rise in colorectal cancer in younger individuals, all people need to be aware of the symptoms of colorectal cancer. These include blood in your stool, change in bathroom habits, anemia, unexplained weight loss, and more. These symptoms often don’t mean cancer, and multiple or persistent symptoms lasting more than two weeks should be evaluated by a physician.
There is no reason to live with uncomfortable symptoms. Don’t wait to talk to a medical professional about your concerns.
Healthcare teams are doing everything possible to keep their patients safe from COVID-19. For those still unsure about in-office visits, there are several at-home colorectal cancer screening options available for average-risk people.
While a colonoscopy is the only screening test that can prevent cancer (through the removal of small growths, or polyps, from the inside the colon before cancer can develop), there are inexpensive, stool-based screening tests that can be done in the privacy of your own home, and that will detect cancer in its early stages. If evidence of blood or cancer is found through a stool-based test, a colonoscopy will be required to complete the screening.
A lot has changed in the past year, but taking care of your health should not be sidelined. Now is the time to make and keep your colorectal cancer screening appointment.