Colonoscopy saves lives

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Colonoscopy saves lives

The bad news is that colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the US. The good news is that it is one of the most preventable cancers.

Colorectal cancer screening saves lives, states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Screening tests are used to look for a disease when a person does not have symptoms. They allow potential problems to be identified early, when treatment works best.

Several types of screening tests are available for colorectal cancer, including colonoscopy, which is considered the gold standard. It can detect precancerous polyps — abnormal growths in the colon or rectum—that can be removed before they turn into cancer. Most colon polyps are harmless, but some can develop into colon cancer, which is often fatal when found in its later stages. Removal of these polyps during a colonoscopy can decrease the incidence of colon cancer by up to 90 percent.

During a colonoscopy, a colonoscope is used to examine the entire colon, which is about five feet long. The colonscope is a long, flexible tube with a tiny camera at the tip that is inserted into the rectum.

Regular screening is the key to preventing colorectal cancer. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening begin at age 50. Screening should continue every 10 years thereafter for people at average risk of colorectal cancer. Adults age 75 and older should ask their healthcare provider if they should be screened.

Other screenings include stool tests, flexible sigmoidoscopy (examines the rectum and lower third of the colon), and CT colonography (a virtual colonoscopy using X-rays and computers). Cologuard is an at-home stool collection kit that detects certain DNA markers and blood in the stool. It is intended for people who are at average risk for colorectal cancer. Note that Cologuard may only be appropriate for some types of patients.

According to the CDC, 90 percent of new cases of colorectal cancer occur in people who are age 50 or older. However, about one in four adults have not been screened as recommended. Of those who have never been screened, more than 80 percent are age 50 to 64.

According to the American Cancer Society, the death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping in men and women for several decades. This may be due to colorectal polyps being found more often by screening and removed before they can develop into cancers. As a result, there are more than 1 million colorectal cancer survivors in the US.

Some studies suggest that people may reduce their risk of developing colorectal cancer by increasing physical activity, limiting alcohol consumption, and avoiding tobacco.