In a change from past years, the American Cancer Society now recommends that people who are at average risk should begin getting screened for colorectal cancer starting at age 45. Today, colorectal cancer screening is done in one of two ways, either stool-based testing that tries to detect cancer in the stool or a visual examination of the colon and rectum.
So, what determines being at only average risk?
- A person is considered at average risk if they have never had any history of colorectal cancer or polyps.
- No family history of colorectal cancer.
- No personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
- Free from any hereditary colorectal cancer syndromes, including Lynch syndrome or FAP.
- No history of radiation to the abdomen or pelvic region to treat other cancer.
Individuals who have personal history with any or all of the above, are considered to be at higher risk of colorectal cancer and may be required to start screening before the age of 45 and be screened more frequently as required by their physician.
What are the signs or symptoms of colorectal cancer?
Typically, colorectal cancer does not cause noticeable symptoms right away. However, some of the signs can be indicated by:
- Changes to your normal bowel habits, including frequent diarrhea or constipation, lasting for more than a few days.
- Frequent feelings of needing a bowel movement even after having one.
- Abnormal cramping or abdominal pain.
- Noticing blood in your stool. This presents as a dark, often coffee color.
- Unusual rectal bleeding that is not caused by hemorrhoid irritation.
- Unexpected weight loss.
Having one or more of these symptoms is not an immediate indicator that you are developing colon cancer. Most of these symptoms can be caused by other maladies such as infection, food allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, and hemorrhoid flare-ups. That said, when these symptoms arise, it is recommended that you see your doctor to determine if further testing is necessary.
What types of treatments are being used?
The main course of research with colorectal cancer is finding ways to prevent it and continuing to develop and refine testing for earlier detection. Treatments include:
- Surgery – the latest laparoscopic and robotic surgeries are at the forefront of improving colorectal cancer treatment. These newer types of surgeries mean smaller incisions than open surgeries.
- Chemotherapy – A mainstay treatment for many people suffering from colorectal cancer, chemotherapy researchers are always looking for ways to improve the results.
- Targeted Therapy – Often used in conjunction with chemotherapy, targeted therapy drugs attack specific parts of cancer cells while not damaging normal cells.
- Immunotherapy – Still in the earlier stages of research, immunotherapy works to utilize the body’s own immune system to attack the “foreign” cells and leave normal cells alone.
As with any health condition, early detection and treatment is the key to a better outcome. The American Cancer Society urges everyone to schedule their screening by the age of 45 unless otherwise directed to do it earlier by their physician. The perceived stigma of a colorectal cancer screening is nothing compared to the harm that can be done by ignoring the advice of the medical community.
If you have reached the age of 45, have you taken the initiative to have your colorectal screening done? Do you proactively urge your patients to stay current with their screening? Share your thoughts on this subject in the comment section below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.