Colorectal screening procedures are more important than many people think them to be. The truth is that studies have shown colorectal cancer to be the second biggest cancer killer in both men and women. What makes this all the more unfortunate is that a large number of these deaths could have been prevented with colorectal screening.
Who’s At Risk?
Colorectal cancer affects both men and women who are above the age of fifty. Because it affects the rectum and the colon, it is sometimes referred to as colonic cancer. At the root of this cancer is something called polyps, which are abnormal growths found on the walls of the rectum and colon. While most polyps are non-cancerous, some do develop into cancerous growths. This is why early and regular screening is so important. Early detection and removal of these polyps can prevent the onset of colorectal cancer.
There are some people who have a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer than others. Studies show that women who have already suffered from breast, uterine or ovarian cancer have a higher risk of contracting colorectal cancer. Apart from that, people who have already had colorectal cancer once stand a higher chance of getting it again. Close relatives such as children, parents or siblings of someone with colorectal cancer are also more prone to the disease. Other factors that increase the risk of colorectal cancer are smoking, lack of exercise and a diet that is high in meat and fat consumption.
In general, colorectal screening procedures consist of a range of different exams and tests. The first is the Fecal Occult Blood Test that checks if there is any hidden blood in the stool sample. The first test uses a chemical called guaiac which can detect blood proteins which contain iron. The second test uses antibodies to detect hemoglobin proteins. The second major screening procedure is called Sigmoidoscopy. In this, a special lighted instrument is used to inspect the lower colon and the rectum. Prior to this, the colon is thoroughly cleaned. The third screening procedure is the Colonoscopy, which inspects the entire colon and the rectum. For this procedure, the colon is thoroughly cleansed and the patient is usually given a sedative.
Another screening procedure that is done is known as a virtual colonoscopy. Compared to the other procedures, this is less invasive, quicker and easier on the patient. A special x-ray is used to take pictures of different parts of the colon and rectum – then a computer assembles the pictures and analyses them for polyps. While no sedation is needed with this method, a colon cleanse will need to be done. The second-last screening procedure is called a double contrast barium enema. The patient is given an enema that consists of a barium solution and air. This helps to highlight the colon and the rectal region – x-rays are then taken to detect the presence of polyps. Research has shown that while this method is generally effective, it can miss smaller polyp growths.
The final colorectal screening procedure is known as the Digital Rectal Exam. This is often done as part of the normal physical examination – the doctor will insert a gloved and lubricated finger inside the rectum to feel for any abnormal growths. While colorectal screening procedures are actively recommended, it’s best to meet with your doctor to know which tests will be safest for you and how often you can be screened. This evaluation will be made based on your present state of health, your personal medical history as well as the cost of the tests and insurance coverage. While the tests and the scheduling may vary, everyone above the age of fifty should go for colorectal screening procedures.