The ranks of colorectal cancer are as follows: 2nd leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. Colorectal cancer is called the “silent killer” because it has no symptoms, and is often undiagnosed until it progresses to later stages, making it difficult to treat. However, if colorectal cancer is detected early, it is often completely curable. There are currently more than 1.4 million colorectal cancer survivors in the United States, and their success is largely due to awareness, screening and treatment programs, and education, such as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month held each March. This is due to our efforts.

Colorectal cancer screening guidelines – age, high-risk populations, and other considerations

Many factors increase susceptibility to colorectal cancer, increasing the need and frequency of screening tests. High-risk groups include people who are over 45, drink alcohol, smoke, have colorectal polyps, or eat large amounts of red or processed meat. Additionally, people who have a family history of colorectal cancer or who have inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease) are in this high-risk population. All adults should have a screening test when they turn 45, even if they are not in a high-risk population.

Kathryn E. Hitchcock, MD, a UF Health radiation oncologist on the gastrointestinal oncology team, emphasizes the importance of colorectal cancer screening.

“The chances of curing cancer while it’s very small, or preferably while it’s still a precancerous polyp, are thousands of times higher than if it’s not detected until symptoms start.” she says.

Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests—The Gold Standard and Noninvasive Alternatives

There are several types of colorectal cancer screening. Stool tests, such as the fecal occult blood test (gFOBT), fecal immunochemical test (FIT), and fecal DNA test (sDNA), look for small amounts of bleeding caused by polyps or small cancers. Another type of test, called flexible sigmoidoscopy, uses a flexible scope to view the last third of the colon. Stool testing and flexible sigmoidoscopy are often used together. A screening test called a colonoscopy is used to look at the entire colon. Dr. Hitchcock prefers a colonoscopy because it allows him to see the colon more closely. Other screening options, such as flexible sigmoidoscopy and stool tests, can miss precancerous polyps or actual cancer.

The power of education to break down misconceptions about colorectal cancer screening

As with other types of cancer, there are many misconceptions about colorectal cancer.

“Most cancers are accidents that occur within cells and are not inherited,” Dr. Hitchcock says. “People seem to be so focused on the idea of ​​family inheritance that they won’t get tested if they don’t have a relative with bowel cancer. That’s a big mistake.”

Taking the initiative to protect your health means getting regular check-ups, practicing healthy habits, and eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet.

People who eat a high-fat, low-fiber diet have an increased risk of colorectal cancer, but you don’t have to go on an extreme diet to avoid cancer. Dr. Hitchcock said you don’t need to cut out all sugar, red meat, and processed meat.

“Even people with no family history of cancer can get any cancer. If you have perfect personal habits, a good diet, a healthy weight, don’t smoke or drink alcohol, and do lots of exercise, people with cancer can get all kinds of cancer,” Dr. Hitchcock said. “Good habits reduce risk, but they never eliminate risk.”

Dr. Hitchcock once again emphasized the importance of cancer screening after witnessing the tragedies that can result from not getting it. “The sadness of the patients who sit with me in my office acknowledging that if they had just had a colonoscopy, their lives would not have been in such terrible danger. “It’s indescribable. Please don’t put yourself in that position,” she said.

This March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so if you haven’t been tested for colorectal cancer, talk to your doctor.


What are the symptoms of colon cancer?

Symptoms of colorectal cancer include:

  • Abdominal pain or tenderness in the lower abdomen
  • blood in stool
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or other changes in bowel habits
  • narrow stool
  • Unexplained weight loss

What screening tests are available for colorectal cancer?

How do I know which test is right for me?

Colonoscopy is often called the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening, but other tests have lower risks. The type of test that is appropriate for a patient, and when the patient should be tested, depends on a careful evaluation by the doctor.

For people at average risk, the ideal screening process is:

  • Get a colonoscopy every 10 years starting at age 45
  • gFOBT or FIT performed annually
  • sDNA-FIT every 1-3 years
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 or 10 years and annual FIT stool examination
  • CT colonography (also called virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years

People at higher risk should be tested more often. This high-risk group includes people who:

  • Family history of hereditary colorectal cancer syndromes (such as familial adenomatous polyposis, also known as FAP, or hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, also known as HNPCC)
  • Family history of colorectal cancer or polyps. It means that a close relative (parent, sibling, or child) developed these symptoms before age 60.
  • History of colorectal cancer or polyps
  • History of long-term chronic inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)

What are the benefits of early detection through colorectal cancer screening?

It is much easier to cure colorectal cancer while it is a very small precancerous polyp than if the cancer is not discovered until symptoms appear. Early detection can be the difference between curable and incurable colorectal cancer. Even if you think you’re healthy, something as simple as regular check-ups can save your life.

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