Having a colonoscopy to screen for colorectal cancer is not on anyone's list of favorite activities. However, with colorectal cancer ranking as the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, undergoing the outpatient procedure as per the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) guidelines may be one of the smartest things you can do for your overall health.
When Should You Get Screened?
It is important for individuals to go for colorectal cancer routine screenings even if they are not showing any symptoms. In general, both men and women should begin getting routine colonoscopies beginning at age 50 or at age 45 for African Americans. Other risk factors that may lead to earlier screenings are:
- A family history of colorectal cancer
- Colorectal polyps
- Genetic changes
Early Detection Through Screening Tests
It is best to catch colorectal cancer before you become symptomatic. Doctors can actually prevent cancers from ever developing by removing polyps and they can cure more patients by diagnosing cancer at an early stage.
Possible screening tests for colorectal cancer include colonoscopy, virtual colonoscopy or stool tests. A colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure that is used to try to detect colon polyps and remove them before they can become cancerous. In a virtual colonoscopy, the physician uses the images from a CT scan to examine a patient's large intestine (colon) and rectum. Stool tests are used to look for occult blood or other proteins in a patient's stool that might indicate that a polyp is present. Your doctor will work with you to decide which test is appropriate based on your individual history and symptoms.