You don’t want to talk about it. You don’t want to think about it. But it's important. If you are over 50, screening for colorectal cancer (cancer of the rectum or colon) is critical. For one reason, it’s the second leading cause of cancer-related death for both men and women.
Another reason is that people over the age of 50 are most at risk (45 years for African Americans, Native Americans and Alaska Natives or if you have a family history of colorectal cancer).
There is good news, though. You can reduce your risk if you get screened for colorectal cancer starting at the age of 50, or whenever you and your doctor decide that you should start.
Those who have had a colonoscopy will tell you that it’s not all that uncomfortable.
Jamie Grebosky, MD, an administrator at Asante Ashland Community Hospital, says there is an even easier alternative for people who are at normal risk.
“FIT kit testing is an easy, non-invasive way to screen low-risk patients for colon cancer,” Dr. Grebosky says.
The FIT test looks for blood in the stool. Your doctor can either give it to you at an appointment or send it to your home. After you use it, you either return it to the doctor or mail it to the lab. Experts say it’s just as an effective to do an annual FIT test as it is to have a colonoscopy every 10 years.
People at high risk continue to need a colonoscopy: if you have a family history of colorectal cancer or a previous test that showed increased risk.
“Although early detection and diagnosis greatly affect survival rates, only about half of the US population participates in screening,” says Grebosky. “Talk with your provider to see if colon cancer screening is right for you.”
On your own, you can build your defenses against colorectal cancer by:
- Getting active
- Eating healthily
- Quitting smoking
- Losing weight if you’re overweight
- Taking a daily low-dose aspirin, which has been shown to reduce polyp formation, an indicator of increased colorectal cancer risk. (Talk with your doctor for sure about this, because some people cannot take a daily aspirin.)
You can learn more about colorectal cancer on these web sites: