According to statistics provided by the National Cancer Institute, almost 1.2 million Americans were living with colon cancer in the year 2013. As of 2016, the Institute’s estimated number of colon and rectum cancer deaths amounts to nearly 50,000 individuals. Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer, and thousands lose loved ones every year as a result of its aggressive nature. In response to these harrowing numbers, health professionals at all levels have begun to discuss the importance of colon cancer screening.
Screening for colon cancer can involve one or more common testing methods, including a sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, double-contrast barium enema, CT colonography (essentially a virtual colonoscopy), and/or various fecal tests. Some of these options can be quite invasive, particularly the sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy, which involve placing a scope into the patient’s bowels. Others are less invasive, but the results may not be as thorough as those of the scope tests—making this a difficult trade-off for many patients.
Whatever the method, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that patients should be screened regularly between the ages of 50 and 75. The interval between screenings varies depending on which tests are performed and the results, but practicing gastroenterologists work with each individual patient to determine an appropriate screening schedule and set up any necessary reminders.
If you are aged 50 or older—particularly if your family has a history of colorectal cancer—it’s important that you set up a colon cancer screening with a licensed gastroenterologist. If you’re worried about the invasive nature of certain tests or have any questions about colon cancer or the screening, your gastroenterologist can help you understand the process and its importance to your health and longevity.