A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Should you get screened for colon cancer?

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Why you should get a colon cancer screening

Fifty percent.

That’s the percentage of people who don’t get screened for colorectal cancer.

If you’re one of the 50 percent and are 50 or older, get it done. Here’s why:

  • Colorectal cancer kills more people than any cancer except lung cancer.
  • It’s responsible for about 10 percent of all cancer deaths.
  • Detected in its earliest stages, up to 90 percent of those deaths could be prevented.

Symptoms can be silent

Colorectal cancer often doesn’t cause symptoms at first. That’s why screening exams are so important.

While other screenings are available, including a promising new stool sample test, colonoscopy remains the gold standard for detecting polyps and other potential signs of colorectal cancer, according to Dr. Christopher Rall, a gastroenterologist at Marshfield Clinic.

The procedure calls for a scope equipped with a lens and bright light, routed through the rectum, to view the inside of the colon or large intestine.

About virtual colonoscopy

Colonography or virtual colonoscopy uses a CT scanner and specialized computer software to produce images from inside the colon. It has been available for years but hasn’t made major inroads into colonoscopy.

“Virtual colonoscopy is still used for specific situations, primarily when standard colonoscopy cannot reach the end of the colon,” Rall said.

Virtual colonoscopy might sound better than standard colonoscopy, but it really isn’t. Both screening methods require you to spend time preparing for the test by taking substances that induce near-constant diarrhea. The flushing helps doctors find polyps or other precancerous lesions.

A few other options are stool sample testing and barium enemas, but each have limitations. Likewise, different types of flushes are available for prepping before colonoscopy but have not been proven nor approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

One new possibility, Cologuard, is a DNA stool test that has been approved by the FDA.

“It’s considered fairly sensitive for detection of cancer,” Rall said. “It may be a reasonable alternative for those who refuse to have a colonoscopy. The Cologuard stool test is a better alternative than not undergoing any colon cancer screening at all. If a patient’s results are positive, hopefully that would provide the encouragement they need to undergo colonoscopy.”

Be in the 50 percent who have

That takes us back to the 50 percent who should be screened but have not been. Are you still one of them? If so, consider a talk with your doctor soon.

View frequently asked questions about getting a colonoscopy.

Find a Marshfield Clinic Gastroenterologist

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