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  • Writer's pictureHannah Valliere

Screening is Key to Colorectal Cancer Prevention


The fourth most common type of cancer in the United States is colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer. It usually begins as abnormal growths inside the colon or rectum. These growths are called polyps, and while they generally aren’t cancerous, there are some that can turn into cancer over time.


Symptoms


Polyps and early-stage colorectal cancer often don’t cause any noticeable symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they'll likely depend on the cancer's size and location.


According to Mayo Clinic, symptoms of colorectal cancer include:


  • A change in bowel habits, such as more frequent diarrhea or constipation

  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool

  • Ongoing pain or discomfort in the belly area, such as cramps or gas

  • A feeling that the bowel doesn't empty all the way during a bowel movement

  • Weakness or tiredness

  • Unintended weight loss


Many of these symptoms can be associated with a health condition other than colorectal cancer, such as irritable bowel syndrome. Still, it’s important to talk to your provider right away if you are experiencing them.


Screenings


Colorectal screenings are highly recommended by healthcare professionals. These tests can find polyps before they’ve had a chance to turn into cancer. Screening also helps find the disease at an early stage when treatment works best.


“Because colorectal cancer grows very slowly, screening is highly effective,” says Jeff Moberg, PA-C, a provider at Tioga Medical Center.  “We can detect and deal with many issues before they have a chance to turn into cancer.”


According to The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, people at average risk for colorectal cancer should receive regular screenings beginning at the age of 45. According to Jeff, “regular” means once every ten years if the initial screening revealed no polyps. If polyps are detected, a screening every three to five years is recommended.


You may need to be tested earlier than 45, or more often than other people, if you are at an increased risk for developing colorectal cancer, meaning you may have:



“The thing to remember is that these are general guidelines and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for the next. I encourage everyone to visit with their provider to determine a screening schedule that is right for them.”


Colonoscopies


Several screening tests can be used to find polyps or colorectal cancer, but the preferred screening by most healthcare providers is a colonoscopy, says Jeff. “Hands down, colonoscopies are the best at detecting precancerous polyps or lesions.”


During a colonoscopy, the provider looks for changes in the colon and rectum using a long flexible tube with a camera. If necessary, polyps or other types of abnormal tissue can be removed through the scope during the procedure. Tissue samples (biopsies) can be taken during a colonoscopy as well.


“There is an unfortunate stigma around colonoscopies, especially with men,” says Jeff. “Up until about 15 years ago, there wasn’t much sedation during the procedure, but now patients are fully asleep and don’t feel a thing. It’s an easy thing that can prevent a lot of issues.”


Cologuard


Cologuard is a prescription colon cancer screening kit that you can use at home. It tests for colon cancer by identifying abnormal DNA and traces of blood in the stool that precancerous polyps and colorectal cancer can cause. It is designed for people at an average risk.


While there are many benefits to Cologuard, like its convenience and minimal invasiveness, there are drawbacks, too, such as its accuracy. “Although Cologuard is not as accurate, it’s a great option for those who are highly opposed to a colonoscopy,” says Jeff.


Cologuard can be ordered through your provider.


Appointments


Early detection and intervention can significantly improve outcomes for colorectal cancer patients. “I always tell my patients, ‘If you want to be around for your family, it’s simple. Get screened,’” says Jeff.


Make an appointment with your provider to find out if you’re due for a colorectal cancer screening, and if so, which one is right for you.


Tioga Medical Center provides colonoscopies on site monthly. Visit with your provider for more information or to get on the schedule.

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