You look healthy. You feel good. So, why should you be concerned about colorectal cancer? Colorectal cancer is the second most deadly cancer in Oregon. But, it doesn’t have to be.
What is most tragic about this disease is that it is often preventable! Screening may prevent those at risk—both men and women age 50 and older—from getting colorectal cancer.
Yet, less than half of individuals who are at risk get screened for colorectal cancer as recommended. This is why three out of five colorectal cancer diagnoses are made in the later stages of the disease when it is more difficult to treat, if at all.
How does screening work to prevent colorectal cancer?
Unlike other cancers, colorectal cancer can be prevented through screening. Most colorectal cancers start with the formation of polyps. These polyps are abnormal growths that can be found through screening and removed before they have a chance to develop into cancer and spread to other parts of the body.
Who is at risk?
Everyone over the age of 50 should be screened for colorectal cancer even if they don’t have a family history or symptoms. If you think you may be at increased risk for colorectal cancer, learn your family health history and ask your doctor if you should begin screening before age 50.
Age is the single most important risk factor when it comes to colorectal cancer. There is a greater likelihood for polyps to form the older we get no matter our gender. Colorectal cancer affects both men and women so everyone needs to get screened.
Individuals with a family history may also be at risk of getting colorectal cancer. About 10 percent of colorectal cancer cases occur due to genetic makeup. If you have a close relative—father, mother or sibling—who has had colorectal cancer, then you may be at risk and should talk to your doctor about screening before the age of 50. Other risk factors include smoking, a high fat diet and lack of physical exercise.
What are the symptoms?
Colorectal cancer can be a silent killer. Polyps and colorectal cancer may not cause symptoms, especially at first. Additionally, symptoms can be mistaken for other health conditions. If you are age 50 or older, it’s important to not put off getting screened. Symptoms can include blood in the stool, frequent gas pains or indigestion, a change in bowel habits, unexpected weight loss and chronic fatigue.
What screening options are available?
There are several different screening tests for precancerous polyps and colorectal cancer. Most insurance plans, including the Oregon Health Plan (OHP), cover 100 percent of the cost of screening with no co-pays or deductibles. Even without insurance, low cost, reliable options are available. To find out about your insurance options, visit HealthCare.gov.
Screening options include a stool test, barium enema and colonoscopy. A yearly stool test checks for blood in the stool as a possible sign of colorectal cancer. A barium enema includes an x-ray of the colon and rectum that may find polyps, which is usually done every five years. With a colonoscopy, which you should have done every 10 years, polyps can be found and removed to prevent colorectal cancer from forming. If polyps are found, based on pathology results, then your doctor may recommend having a colonoscopy more frequently.
If you haven’t been screened, talk to your doctor about the screening option that’s best for you. Then, make an appointment to be screened. It could save your life. Also, talk to family members and friends about getting screened, too.
Today, colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in Oregon. Tomorrow, we hope no one will have to face the disease.