Make Getting Screened For Colorectal Cancer Your New Year's Resolution

If you are 50 or over, talk to your doctor about colorectal cancer screening

Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and women and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this year showed that rates of new cases and deaths of colorectal cancer are decreasing and that more adults are being screened. Between 2003 and 2007, approximately 66,000 colorectal cancer cases were prevented and 32,000 lives were saved compared to 2002. Half of these prevented cases and deaths were due to screening. However, one in three adults is not being screened.

As 2012 approaches, the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE) encourages all men and women age 50 and over to add getting screened for colorectal cancer to their list of New Year's resolutions.  Recent studies have confirmed that screening is a contributing factor to declining colorectal cancer death rates.  

Colorectal cancer, also referred to as colon cancer, is one of the most preventable cancers because the majority of colorectal cancers arise from precancerous growths in the colon called polyps, which can be found during a screening exam and removed before they turn into cancer. If you are age 50 or over, talk to your doctor about the colorectal cancer screening method that is best for you.

Colorectal cancer is considered a silent killer because often there are no symptoms until it is too late to treat. Age is the single most important risk factor for the disease, so even people who lead a healthy lifestyle can still develop polyps and cancer.

ASGE screening guidelines recommend that, beginning at age 50, men and women at average risk for developing colorectal cancer should begin screening.  People with risk factors, such as a family history of polyps, colorectal cancer or other risk factors, should begin screening at an earlier age. Some experts suggest that African-Americans should begin screening at age 45.

Patients are advised to discuss their risk factors with their doctor to determine when to begin routine colorectal cancer screening and how often they should be screened. Screening methods include colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, stool blood tests such as fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT), stool DNA, CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy), and barium enema.

Colonoscopy is considered the preferred screening test because it is a preventive exam: it is the only test that both finds and removes precancerous polyps during the same exam. With the other methods, if a polyp is found, that test must then be followed by a colonoscopy to remove the polyp.  A person at average risk with normal colonoscopy results won't need another exam for 10 years. Should a polyp or cancer be found, screening intervals may be more frequent.

Colorectal cancer can be present in people without symptoms, known family history, or predisposing conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease. While common in other benign conditions, the following symptoms might indicate colorectal cancer:

>> Blood in your stools

>> Narrower than normal stools

>> Unexplained abdominal pain

>> Unexplained change in bowel habits

>> Unexplained anemia

>> Unexplained weight loss

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should consult your doctor.

For more information on colorectal cancer prevention and to find a doctor, log on the ASGE’s colorectal cancer awareness website at