March is National Colorectal Awareness Month, a campaign designed to spread awareness on colorectal health, colon cancer, rectal cancer and the importance of routine screenings. Screenings tests, including stool testing, colonoscopy and CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy), are essential in detecting early signs of cancer, when it is easier to treat and cure. Screenings can also detect pre-cancerous polyps, which can be safely removed before they become cancerous.
How often you should be screened depends on the test and your risk for colon cancer. Here, Piedmont Colorectal Associates discusses guidelines and testing options for colorectal screening.
Screening Should Start at Age 45 for Average Risk Individuals
The American Cancer Society recommends everyone start getting screened regularly beginning age 45. However, individuals with a higher risk of colorectal cancer may need to be screened earlier. This includes individuals who:
- Have a family history of colorectal cancer, pre-cancerous polyps or other colorectal problems
- Were previously diagnosed with pre-cancerous colon polyps
- Have other health conditions such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease or Type 2 diabetes
Regular screenings should continue through age 75. Individuals between the ages of 76 and 85 should consult with their doctor to determine if and how often they should get screened. Screenings are no longer recommended after age 85.
Options for Screening Tests
Colorectal screening tests vary in how often they should be performed and how effective they are in detecting cancer and polyps. For instance, colonoscopy, perhaps the most well-known screening method, is the most complete method available as it can detect both cancer and remove pre-cancerous polyps. Individuals with average risk of cancer may only need to have a colonoscopy done every 10 years. However, colonoscopies require the most extensive preparation of all the screening methods. Stool-based tests like fecal immunochemical test (FIT) and guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) require no preparation, are performed annually, but are considered to be less accurate in detecting cancer and polyps than colonoscopies.
The following are the screening methods used for colorectal cancer and how often they should be performed on average-risk individuals:
- Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) – once a year
- Guaiac fecal occult blood test (FOBT) – once a year
- Stool DNA test – every three years
- Colonoscopy – every 10 years
- Virtual colonoscopy – every five years
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy – every five years
- Double contrast barium enema – every five to 10 years
To discuss your screening options for colorectal cancer, please schedule an appointment with Piedmont Colorectal Associates. Call (404) 351-7900 today.