It was 1966. LBJ was president and people were protesting the war in Vietnam; Ronald Reagan was elected Governor of California; Adam West debuted as Batman; and people watched the first episode of Star Trek on TV. If you were born that year—along with celebrities like Adam Sandler, Halle Berry, John Cusack, and Juliana Margulies—you’re turning 50 in 2016. So Happy Birthday! It’s now time to get screened for colorectal cancer!
Of course no one is jumping up and down at the thought, but you need to start having a conversation with your doctor. Ignoring this won’t make it go away and it could end up being a tragic mistake.
SHOULD I BE WORRIED
ABOUT COLORECTAL CANCER?
According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States (excluding skin cancers). They estimate that in 2016 there will be 95,270 new cases of colon cancer and 39,220 new cases of rectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States when men and women are considered separately, and the second leading cause when both sexes are combined. It is expected to cause about 49,190 deaths during 2016.
So who is more at risk? Those who are:
• Over the age of 50
• Have a personal or family history of polyps
• Have other intestinal conditions such as Crohn’s
• Have diabetes
• Smoke or drink alcohol
While there has been an almost 30 percent reduction in deaths over the past several years, since the push for screening began, that statistic could be much better. About one-third of Americans between the ages of 50 and 75 — the group at highest risk for colorectal cancer — have not been screened, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If you fall into that group…it’s time for a screening.
TYPES OF SCREENINGS AVAILABLE
The US Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent panel of experts in prevention, recommends screening for colorectal cancer using fecal occult blood testing, colonoscopy, or sigmoidoscopy in adults aged 50-75. Each one can be used alone or in combination with another. You should talk to your doctor about which test or combination of tests are right for you.
Fecal occult blood test: testing for microscopic amounts of blood in the stool, or feces. Fecal occult blood can be a sign of a polyp, or cancer in the colon or rectum.
Colonoscopy: a thin, flexible tube with a small camera attached called a colonoscope is used to look at the entire colon. During the procedure, tissue samples can be collected (biopsied) and abnormal growths (polyps) can be taken out
Sigmoidoscopy: a sigmoidoscope (similar to the colonoscope) is used to view the lining of the rectum and the lower third of the colon (the sigmoid colon).
Medicare and many private insurance plans cover the costs of colorectal screenings. Check with your insurer to find out which test are covered for you.
OF SCREENING METHODS
Each of the screening methods have their own advantages and disadvantages. You’ll need to consider them along with your risk factors when talking with your provider about which screening method is best for you.
fecal occult blood test
Pros: Preparation is relatively simple— you may have to avoid certain foods for a few days before the test; no anesthesia needed
Cons: Can require additional testing to examine the colon or rectum if blood is found. This screening should be done every year.
Pros: Allows examination of the entire colon and rectum; any abnormalities found can be removed through the scope; if no abnormalities are found and you have no other risk factors, you won’t need another screening for 10 years.
Cons: Requires preparation—certain foods may need to be avoided and the entire colon must be cleansed prior to the test; the procedure is performed under anesthesia.
Pros: Requires less preparation than colonoscopy; can be done without anesthesia; any abnormalities found can be removed through the scope.
Cons: Only rectum and lower colon examined; needs to be repeated every 5 years—more frequently than colonoscopy.
QUESTIONS FOR YOUR DOCTOR:
- I don’t have a family history of
colorectal polyps or cancer. Should
I still get screened?
- I have a family history of colorectal
cancer and polyps. Should I be
screened more frequently?
- Which screening method is best
- How do I prepare for the test?
- Will I be awake during the test?
- What will happen during the test?
As awkward as the conversation may be, don’t put it off any longer. Research shows that if everyone over the age of 50 had their recommended regular screenings, 60% of deaths from colorectal cancer could be avoided. That means you’ll be around to enjoy many more birthdays to come.