In Vermont, colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer affecting both men and women. It is also the second leading cause of cancer deaths in our state, despite being largely preventable.
Unlike many cancers, colorectal cancer can be caught early and even prevented with one simple step – screening. Despite this fact, more than a third of patients eligible for screening have never been screened.
Knowing how and when to get screened is something we discuss with patients every day. During March, Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, we’re sharing this message with our community.
Screening takes one of two forms – a test that examines a stool sample or a colonoscopy.
When it comes to colonoscopy, we get it – it’s not exactly the way you want to spend your day. The preparation can be a little off-putting and the test itself is, well, less than glamorous. Yet, it remains the gold standard for screening, providing detailed results about overall colorectal health, and offers the opportunity to treat polyps (some of which may be cancer forming) at the time of the procedure. Depending on results, a follow-up colonoscopy may be recommended at intervals of three to 10 years.
Your health care provider might also recommend other less invasive options if you’re in good health and fall into the average risk population. What’s average risk?
- You’re between the ages of 50 and 75
- You have no family or personal history of colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, polyps, abdominal pain or blood in your stool
- You have not experienced changes in the frequency, amount or consistency of bowel movements
Take-home kits, like the fecal immunochemical test (FIT), are less invasive and highly accurate. FIT examines stool for signs of microscopic blood, one possible symptom of colorectal cancer. This testing needs to be repeated every year to be effective, and a positive test should be followed up by colonoscopy (see above). Check with your insurer; many cover colorectal screenings.
Between screenings, no matter your age, you can promote colorectal health by:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
- Eating fewer red/processed meats
- Eating more vegetables, fruits and whole grains (high in fiber!)
- Quitting smoking
- Limiting alcohol intake
If you’re over age 50, talk with your health care provider today about which screening option is best for you, remembering that the best test is the one you get done. Contact Diane Jones, CVMC Patient Navigator, with questions or concerns at email@example.com or 225-5449.
Background: Cancer of the colon or rectum (colorectal cancer) is commonly diagnosed among adults over age 50 and is a leading cause of cancer death, second only to lung cancer. It is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer among cancers affecting both sexes.
While most colorectal cancers are preventable with effective screening, and new cases of colorectal cancer continue to decline, more than 50 percent of colorectal cancers are diagnosed at a late stage when prognosis and survival are poor.
Early detection promotes successful treatment. Talk with your health care provider about getting screened or contact Diane Jones, CVMC Patient Navigator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 225-5449 to learn more.
Editor’s note: Dr. Jeremiah Eckhaus practices at CVMC Integrative Family Medicine-Montpelier, a member of the The University of Vermont Health Network. He is CVMC’s medical director for primary care and president of CVMC’s medical staff.