Colorectal cancer is a deadly disease that starts within the body’s digestive system. It is the third most common type of cancer in the United States and is responsible for thousands of deaths every year. According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 150,000 new cases of colorectal cancer are estimated to be diagnosed in the United States this year, with an estimated 50,000 deaths.
“The colon is a sizable organ -- measuring about five feet in length – that connects the small intestine to the rectum. Colorectal cancer can begin as a growth at any point along the inside wall of the colon or rectum,” said Srikar S. Reddy, M.D., a gastroenterology specialist on the medical staff at Maury Regional Medical Center.
A screening to find pre-cancerous areas or early stage cancers is the best way to prevent death from colorectal cancer. Screenings for colorectal cancer are recommended to begin at age 45-50* — and earlier for those with a family history of the disease and other risk factors. Screenings for colorectal cancer include:
Colonoscopy – During a colonoscopy, the patient is sedated while a lighted scope with a viewing lens is carefully moved through the entire length of the colon and rectum by a gastroenterologist. Sometimes, the exam will find areas of abnormal growth known as polyps that can be a precursor to cancer. During the exam, the physician can remove these polyps to prevent them from turning into cancer at a later time. If any tumor or suspected cancer is seen during the colonoscopy, a biopsy is taken so that testing can be done. It is important that the colon be completely empty before a colonoscopy, so your doctor will prescribe a strong laxative to use prior to the test.
DNA stool test – A stool sample is collected by the patient in their home using a special kit. The kit is returned to a laboratory that analyzes the sample for the presence of blood or abnormal DNA that could indicate cancer.
Fecal occult blood test – A small sample of stool is collected in a physician’s office for testing by a laboratory to detect whether any blood is present, which can indicate possible cancer.
Colonoscopy is the most effective way to detect early colon cancers and pre-cancerous polyps. If a DNA stool test or fecal occult blood test is positive, a colonoscopy would be scheduled.
“Discuss your personal risk and family history with your physician to determine which screening option is best for you. Depending on your personal situation, screenings may be recommended every five to 10 years or more frequently,” said Dr. Reddy.
While a screening can often prevent colorectal cancer from developing or find cancer at an early stage, it is important to recognize possible signs of colorectal cancer, which can include:
- Noticeable changes in bowel movements, including persistent constipation or diarrhea
- Dark patches of blood in the stool
- Long, narrow stools
- A feeling that the bowels do not completely empty
- Persistent abdominal pain or bloating
- Unexplained fatigue, loss of appetite and/or weight loss
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with a physician for further evaluation.
Maury Regional Health offers endoscopy services at Maury Regional Medical Center in Columbia, Marshall Medical Center in Lewisburg and Wayne Medical Center in Waynesboro. Learn more here.
*Screening recommendations and insurance coverage may vary. Speak to your physician about your own screening needs.