Do not get behind scheduling a colonoscopy

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Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. But when it's found and removed early, the chances of a full recovery are significantly improved. Because colorectal cancer rarely causes symptoms in its early stages, screening is important. It’s even more crucial if you have risk factors for the disease.

“Colorectal cancer screening can find cancer at an early stage when it may be easier to treat,” said oncologist, Edmund Paloyan, MD. “Even more important, a screening may prevent cancer from developing when we find and remove polyps.”

Risk factors for colon cancer can include:

  • Family history—If colon cancer, rectal cancer, or polyps are prevalent among your immediate relatives you may need to be tested earlier and more often.
  • Hereditary syndromes—About 5% of people who develop colorectal cancer have inherited gene mutations.
  • Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease
  • Race and ethnicity—African Americans have the highest incidence and mortality rates for colon cancer in the U.S. Ashkenazi Jews have one of the highest risks worldwide.
  • Type 2 diabetes

Revised screening guidelines

Recently, there has been a sharp rise in colorectal cancer cases among adults younger than age 55. After reviewing research on colorectal cancer screening, American Cancer Society experts found that lowering the screening age to 45 will help save additional lives.

Colonoscopy remains gold standard

Home tests for colon cancer involve mailing a stool sample to a lab. Older types of stool tests check for blood, which could signal a cancerous growth. Precancerous polyps are harder to find with these tests, because they tend not to bleed.

Newer types of stool tests look for changes in DNA that could be signs of cancer. They’re also better at finding advanced polyps. You’ll need to have a colonoscopy if a home test shows any positive results.

Because they can’t detect a problem as early as imaging does, home stool tests are typically appropriate for people who have only an average risk of colorectal cancer and no history of polyps or colon disease.

Imaging tests, such as a colonoscopy, remain the gold standard diagnostic test. A colonoscopy can find very small polyps, which can then be removed and tested for cancer. If no precancerous polyps are found, you may not need to have the test repeated more than once every 10 years.

If you’re age 45 or older, or if you’re younger but in a high-risk group, talk with your health care provider about getting screened for colorectal cancer.

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