Disease Prevention Article:

Screenings best way to prevent colon cancer

by Jessica Adams

Colon cancer can be easily prevented or more easily treated if caught early. But how do you know what kind of screening test to get and when?

Men and woman age 50 and over should get checked for colon cancer, advises the Washington Comprehensive Cancer Control Partnership, a coalition of not-for-profit, public and private organizations dedicated to decreasing the burden of cancer in our state.

Screening is critical because colon cancer can develop long before any signs or symptoms occur. Even then, the symptoms are often vague and mistaken for more common illnesses.

So, which screening is best for you? According to the Partnership, you should always discuss your options with a doctor. He/she will be able to recommend which tests to have, the benefits of each, and how often to schedule appointments. The important thing, the Partnership notes, is to get tested - no matter which option you choose.

Meanwhile, here's some basic information on tests, timing, and the pros and cons of each:

  • A fecal occult blood test is an annual take-home test used to detect blood in the stool, which can be a sign of tumors and/or polyps - the usually benign growths that can turn into cancer. While this test is convenient and effectively turns up abnormalities, it can sometimes fail to detect small cancers or precancerous lesions.
  • A flexible sigmoidoscopy is recommended every five years for people over the age of 50. A lighted tube is inserted through the rectum into the lower part of the colon. This examination does detect polyps, but only in the lower half of the colon.
  • A double-contrast barium enema is recommended every 10 years and allows doctors to see abnormal spots in the entire colon via x-rays. No sedation is necessary for this test, but it can sometimes fail to detect small polyps and cancers as well as precancerous lesions.
  • A colonoscopy, recommended every 10 years, is the only screening technique that allows the detection and removal of polyps and cancers throughout the colon. Done under anesthesia, the test typically causes only mild discomfort.

Along with age, family history plays a major part in your risk for colon cancer. Testing should start at age 40 if the disease is hereditary or 10 years before the youngest affected family member.

For more health tips as well as information on other issues related to life as an older adult, call the free and confidential help line at 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464) or email hap@seniorservices.org.