Colorectal cancer is a cancer that can be prevented. Most colorectal
cancers start as benign polyps that can change over time to become
cancerous. The goal of regular screening is to find and remove polyps
before they become cancerous. Colon cancer also responds best to
treatment when found and treated early. It is important to know that
colon cancer may not cause symptoms in early stages.
Everyone should be screened for colorectal cancer starting at age 50. High risk people, including African Americans, may need to be screened before age 50. Talk with your doctor about whether you are at high risk for colon cancer and which screening test best suits you.
There are several screening tests that are available:
- Fecal Occult Blood Tests (FOBT) or Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) should be repeated annually. If any blood is detected you may need a colonoscopy.
- Digital rectal exam is often done during a general physical exam to check for abnormal areas in the rectum.
- Barium Enema needs to be repeated every five years. If polyps are found a colonoscopy is required.
- Sigmoidoscopy does not look at the entire colon and needs to be repeated every five years. It does not require a sedative but if polyps are found a colonoscopy may need to be done.
- Colonoscopy should be done every ten years. A sedative is used to make you more comfortable so a driver is needed to escort the patient home. The colonoscopy is considered to be the gold standard in colorectal screening. This does not mean other colorectal screenings are not helpful in detecting signs of colorectal cancer.
- Virtual Colonoscopy and DNA Stool Tests are still being tested to determine how effective they are compared to current screenings. The virtual colonoscopy still requires you to do a full colon prep and if polyps are found a colonoscopy is recommended.
The Iowa Cancer Consortium (ICC) has put together a list of free or reduced cost colon cancer screenings to be held across Iowa during the month of March. For help finding a screening near you, please call 1-800-237-1225 or go to www.canceriowa.org.