More than 90 percent of colon cancer cases can be prevented with screening. Colon cancer may not cause any signs or symptoms until the disease is advanced, but 30,000 lives could be saved every year with the help of colon cancer screening. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. That’s why it’s important for people over age 50 to be screened regularly.
What Does Screening Do?
Screening tests allow doctors to spot cancer in the colon or rectum at an early stage, when it’s easier to cure. Screenings also help prevent cancer by finding polyps that can be removed before they become cancerous. This can often be done during the actual colonoscopy screening procedure.
If you have a family history of colon cancer or you have other risk factors for colon cancer, talk to your doctor about starting screenings earlier in life—and maybe being screened more often than once a year. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends colon cancer screenings beginning at age 50 for people who have no known risk factors other than age. The frequency depends on the screening method.
The main screening tests include:
- Fecal occult blood test to detect any blood in your stool (which could be caused by cancer or by other some other condition)
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy, in which the doctor examines your rectum and the lower part of your colon for polyps or tumors using a flexible, lighted tube
- Colonoscopy, which allows your doctor to see your entire colon and rectum
If your doctor finds something abnormal during a screening, your doctor will remove samples of tissue (and maybe whole polyps) to be checked under a microscope for cancer cells (a biopsy).
New tests for colorectal cancer screening are being studied. For example, virtual colonoscopy (also called computed tomographic colonography, or CT colonography) uses special X-ray equipment to take pictures of the colon. A computer then assembles these pictures into detailed images that show polyps and other abnormalities.
Virtual colonoscopy is less invasive, and patients do not need sedating medication like they do with conventional colonoscopy. However, doctors cannot do biopsies or remove polyps during virtual colonoscopies as they can during conventional colonoscopies. A virtual colonoscopy requires the same preparation as a conventional colonoscopy.
Schedule Your Colon Cancer Screening Today
SCCA partners with the University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC) to provide colorectal cancer screening. To schedule your screening, call the UWMC Digestive Disease Center directly at (206) 598-4377 between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. You will be asked to provide information from your primary care provider about your health history.