Guest Author - Dr. Denise Howard
Colorectal Cancer is one of the most common cancers in men and women and a leading cause of death in both groups. Over the past decades, an increased understanding of its development and treatment has lead to improved prevention, early diagnosis and survival. The tools are available to prevent even more deaths from this devastating disease.
The symptoms of colorectal cancer are not specific. They may include bloating, abdominal pain, and blood in the stool. Sometimes the symptoms are so severe that hospitalization is required. An advanced cancer can cause intestinal obstruction, hemorrhage, peritonitis, and even sepsis. Investigations may uncover a cancer as the cause and it maybe too advanced to cure.
Screening tests are available and are designed to detect early signs of a malignancy long before it causes any notable problems. There are a number of screening tests available and the recommended options will be dependent on a number of factors such as availability, cost or coverage, provider or patient preference and risk factors. The majority of people should start screening at age 50 but those at higher risk should start earlier. Testing the stool for occult blood is a simple way of discovering the presence of microscopic blood, which might indicate an early cancer. If this is found, then further testing is indicated.
A sigmoidoscopy is an endoscopic procedure to visualize the descending colon, sigmoid and rectum but it does not evaluate the transverse and ascending colon. Imaging test such as a barium enema have also been used but it also only allows visualization of the last portion of the colon. The gold standard is the colonoscopy, which visualizes the entire colon and allows for the removal of any polyps, which maybe found. This test is both diagnostic and therapeutic in the sense that it can remove growths thus preventing the development of cancer.
The recommendations for those at average risk are fecal occult blood test yearly over the age of 40, a sigmoidoscopy or barium enema every 5 years or a colonoscopy every 10 years if the results are negative. For those with a family history, a genetic predisposition, known adenomatous polyps and other specific risks, the screening intervals will be more frequent. The ideal test is the colonoscopy but the potential risks and benefits as well as the cost should be weighed when selecting a screening test.
Colorectal cancer can be beat. It is important to understand your personal risks and seek the advise of your healthcare adviser. Everyone should undergo screening by the age of 50 and for some this should start early. Taking advantage of the available medical screening test is truly a matter of life and death.
I hope this article has provided you with information that will help you make wise choices, so you may:
Live healthy, live well and live long!