Colon Cancer Screening Options

colon cancer screening testsColon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States for both men and women. Fortunately, the death rate is in decline, in large part due to an increase in preventive screening.

Colon cancer screening is one of the most effective early detection and prevention services available in medicine today. By identifying and removing tumors in the colon early on, small cancers, as well as pre-cancerous lesions that have a risk of turning into cancer, can be eliminated.

Risk Factors

There are certain factors that put people at an increased risk of colon cancer. Family history is one. People who are most at risk are persons who have a first degree family member—mother, father, brother, sister—who’s had colon cancer.

People who have Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or other specific diseases of the colon may also be at risk of developing colon cancer.

Behavioral risk factors come into play as well. Being obese, not engaging in physical activity, and having a low-fiber, low plant-based diet all contribute to an increased risk of colon cancer.

Ease of Screening

The importance of cancer screening cannot be overstated. Colon cancer is uniquely easy to screen for, for two important reasons.

First, colon cancer is a very slow progressing cancer. It takes a very long time for colon cancer to grow. It can even take a couple of decades. This makes it possible to catch it early and to also go longer between screenings.

Second, colon cancer screening is actually identifying cancer and pre-cancerous lesions that are technically outside of the body. It’s not like having to do a breast biopsy for breast cancer or screening for lung cancer where you actually have to go into people’s chests. You can actually find out what’s going on along the lining of the colon and stop progression before disease enters the body tissues.

Two Major Screening Options

There are two primary approaches to screening for colon cancer, and which method is used will determine the frequency of screening.

One approach is where the actual anatomy or structure of the colon is evaluated. This method is accomplished either through X-ray testing or a colonoscopy. The colonoscopy is the most advanced and thorough option and only needs to be done once every ten years.

The other approach involves obtaining stool and looking to see if there is any blood or evidence of cancer components. This method of testing must be done as frequently as every year to every three years, depending on the specific test.

Get Screened—It Could Save Your Life

Know your risk factors, discuss them with your doctor, and get screened. For the average American, the recommendations are to begin screening around age 50. Frequency of testing depends upon what test is used.

Most hospital facilities have set up efficient systems for getting people screened, and again, it’s the type of thing you can discuss with your doctor about what options are available.

Click here to listen to a podcast about colon cancer screening with Dr. Matthew McKenna, Director of the Division of Preventive Medicine in the Department of Family and Preventative Medicine at Emory Healthcare.

 

Learn More

Talk to your primary care physician about your risk of colorectal cancer and to determine if you should schedule a colonoscopy. At Winship Cancer Institute, we’re committed to advancing the standard of care for all our patients, including those diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer. Learn more about our colorectal cancer treatment program or schedule an appointment with our gastrointestinal specialists by calling (404) 778-1900.

Talk to Our Nurses

Emory HealthConnection is where registered nurses can help you find a location or specialist that’s right for you. Call 404-778-7777 from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST (M-F).

Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University

Seeing over 17,000 patients a year, Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University is Georgia’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and serves as the coordinating center for cancer research, education and care throughout Emory University.

 

About Dr. McKenna

Matthew McKenna, MDMatthew T. McKenna, MD, is the director of Emory University’s Division of Preventive Medicine, and also serves as professor of Medicine in Emory’s Department of Family and Preventive Medicine. He has extensive experience in public health and preventive medicine. From 1989 – 2010, he worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and before joining the Emory faculty he was the medical director for the Fulton County (the county where the city of Atlanta is located) Department of Health and Wellness from 2010 to 2015. Dr. McKenna is a graduate of the Emory University School of Medicine and he completed his residency in Family Medicine and a post-doctoral fellowship in epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh.

Dr. McKenna joined CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service Program in 1989 and completed the CDC residency in General Preventive Medicine and Public Health in 1992. He subsequently assumed positions of increasing responsibility throughout his career working in a wide range of areas, such as cancer control, tuberculosis, HIV and his last position at CDC was as the director of the Office on Smoking and Health. He is board certified in Family Medicine and Preventive Medicine. Dr. McKenna serves as a volunteer, expert consultant to the Guideline Development Group of the American Cancer Society. That group provided input to the creation of the Colorectal Cancer Screening guidelines that were issued by the Society in May of 2018.

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