Colorectal cancer is a stealthy disease. It can begin unnoticed in your colon or rectum. By the time you develop symptoms, it has grown and possibly spread, making it harder to treat. Screening can help spot this cancer early. But too many U.S. adults ages 50 and older are still skirting this lifesaving tool.
In a recent study, researchers set out to find the latest screening rates for colorectal cancer in the U.S. They looked at data from a 2012 national health survey. The survey asked adults questions about lifestyle behaviors, such as smoking. It also asked about preventive care, including cancer screenings.
Past research noted an 11% jump in screening rates for colorectal cancer from 2002 to 2010. The proportion of adults being screened rose from 54% to 65%. In this latest study, though, that progress seems to have sputtered. Researchers found that the percentage of adults screened in 2012 hovered at 65%. That leaves more than one-third of eligible adults not up to date or completely unscreened for colorectal cancer.
Colonoscopy is the most commonly used screening tool. A doctor looks at the entire rectum and colon for signs of cancer with a colonoscope—a flexible, lighted tube with an attached camera. He or she can even remove precancerous growths called polyps during the procedure.
Unfortunately, some people may avoid a colonoscopy because it requires a lengthy process to clean out the colon before the procedure. In fact, they may pass up colorectal cancer screening altogether. Other screening options are available, though. These include:
A fecal occult blood test: A lab scans a stool sample for blood, a possible sign of cancer.
Sigmoidoscopy: This procedure is similar to a colonoscopy, but it looks only at the rectum and the lower colon.
Barium enema: A series of X-rays highlight any problems in the colon and rectum.
Virtual colonoscopy: A CT scan supplies detailed images of the colon.
Each screening test has benefits and risks. If you are age 50 or older, talk with your doctor to find out which option is right for you. No matter your choice, screening can save your life.
Learn more about your screening options for colorectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer is the second deadliest cancer for men and women. But it’s rarely found in people younger than age 50. For that reason, adults at average risk for the disease should start screening then. If you are at high risk for it, you may need to begin testing at a younger age. You are at high risk if you have:
A personal history of colorectal cancer or precancerous polyps
A family history of the disease
Chronic inflammatory bowel disease, a condition that causes the colon to be chronically inflamed
Certain inherited conditions, including familial adenomatous polyposis and Lynch syndrome
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute