Colon cancer screenings save lives
every 10 years.
2. FIT: This immunological test, done yearly on a stool sample, checks for blood in the stool, a possible sign of cancer. It usually fails to pick up polyps and thus would not prevent cancer, but it is more effective than the old fecal occult blood test.
3. FIT-fecal DNA: This test, sold as Cologuard and usually done every three years, combines FIT with markers for abnormal DNA in the stool, making it better able to detect a cancer and advanced precancerous polyps. It misses about half of precancerous polyps.
4. Virtual colonoscopy: This is an imaging study done every five years via a CT scan that, like an ordinary colonoscopy, requires a thorough bowel cleansing. It visualizes the entire colon, but if anything abnormal is detected, a second prep is needed to permit a regular colonoscopy.
5. Septin 9 assay: This is a serum test done via a blood sample that, although more convenient and less “yucky” than stool tests, is only half as effective as the FIT test in detecting cancer and not at all effective in picking up precancerous lesions.
As important as getting screened for colorectal cancer is the need to avoid risk factors for the disease that individuals can control. These include being overweight or physically inactive, smoking, consuming alcohol immoderately, and eating lots of red meat and processed meat.
Risk factors that are unavoidable include getting older; having an inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease), or having close relatives (such as parents or siblings) who had colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps or an inherited cancer syndrome like Lynch syndrome or familial polyposis. Doctors may advise people with these risk factors to get screened for colorectal cancer as often as every year or two.
With colorectal cancer being found in an increasing number of younger adults, the pressure is on to screen millions more.