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This Month in Cancer Awareness

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Screen For Life 


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March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about the importance of colorectal cancer screening.

Colorectal cancer screening can help find colorectal cancer early, when it is easier to treat. About nine out of every 10 people whose colorectal cancers are found early and treated appropriately are still alive five years later.

What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts in the colon or rectum. Sometimes, it is called colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where the cancer started. 

Usually, colorectal cancer starts as an abnormal growth in the inner lining of the colon or rectum. This abnormal growth is called a polyp. Some polyps can become cancerous over time, but screening tests can find polyps before they turn into cancer.

Who gets colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer is found most often in people who are 50 years old or older. The risk of colorectal cancer increases with age.

Other factors that increase your risk for colorectal cancer include having:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
  • A personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps.
  • A genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).

What are the screening tests for colorectal cancer?

According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, adults age 50 to 75 should be screened for colorectal cancer. If you are older than 75 years old, ask your doctor if you should be screened. People with increased risk of colorectal cancer should talk to their doctor about when to begin screening, which test is right for them, and how often to get tested.2 

Several tests can be used to find colorectal cancer. There are two main groups for colorectal cancer screening tests: stool tests and visual (structural) exams.

Stool tests: These tests look at the stool for signs of cancer. They are easier to do and can be done at home, but they need to be done more often than visual exams. If the results of one of these stool tests is positive or abnormal, you will need a colonoscopy to see if you have cancer.

  • Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT): This test is used to detect blood in your stool that you cannot see through a chemical reaction and is done once a year. Your doctor gives you a test kit to take home. The test kit includes instructions on how to collect a small amount of your stool. Then, you return the test kit to your doctor or lab for testing. 
  • Fecal immunochemical test (FIT): This test uses antibodies to detect blood in your stool that you cannot see and is done once a year. Like the gFOBT, this test can be done at home.
  • FIT-DNA test: This test is also known as the stool DNA test. It looks for changes in DNA that are caused by cancer or polyps and is used to detect blood in your stool that you cannot see. It is done once every one or three years. The test kit includes instructions on how to collect your entire stool at home. Then, you send it to a lab for testing.  

Visual (structural) exams: These tests use either a scope, a thin, flexible, tube-like instrument with a light and a camera on the end, or x-rays to look at the colon or rectum. 

  • Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: For this test, the doctor puts a short scope into your rectum to check for polyps or cancer in the rectum and the lower part of the colon. It is done every five years, or every 10 years with a FIT every year.
  • Colonoscopy: For this test, the doctor puts a scope, longer than the one used for flexible sigmoidoscopy, inside the rectum and the colon to check for polyps or cancer. If your doctor finds a polyp or some cancers, it can be removed during the test. A colonoscopy is done every 10 years for people who do not have an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Computed Tomography (CT) Colonography: This test is also known as a virtual colonoscopy. It uses x-rays and computers to produce images of the entire colon. Your doctor can see these images on a computer screen. A CT colonography is done every five years. 

Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of each test, how often to be tested, and which test to use. You and your doctor should talk about your preferences, your medical condition, the likelihood that you will get the test, and what resources are available for testing and follow-up.

Before you go, check with your insurance provider to find out which tests are covered by your insurance plan and how much you will have to pay. Medicare helps pay for colorectal cancer screening.

How can I reduce my risk of colorectal cancer?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most effective way to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer is to get screened for colorectal cancer routinely, beginning at age 50.3 

You may also reduce your risk of colorectal cancer by maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol consumption, and avoiding tobacco. Medical experts often recommend eating a diet low in animal fats and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and increasing physical activity to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer and other diseases.

Free, Self-Paced Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for Promotores and Community Health Workers (CHWs)

Links to external websites are for informational purposes and not endorsed by the Texas Department of State Health Services. These websites may not be accessible to people with disabilities.

Downloads



1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC – Basic Information about Colorectal Cancer. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal/basic_info. Reviewed January 30, 2019. Accessed November 2019.
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC – Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal/basic_info/screening/tests.htm. Reviewed February 4, 2019. Accessed November 2019.
3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC – What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Colorectal Cancer? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal/basic_info/ prevention.htm. Reviewed January 30, 2019. Accessed November 2019.


Last updated March 9, 2020