“Is It Time for My Colonoscopy?”

This question regarding the annual rite of passage for those approaching the age of 50 may soon be asked by those about to celebrate their 45th birthday as well. Preventative behavior, combined with regular screenings, have helped to decrease the number of colorectal cancer diagnoses for the 50+ age group; however, the Colon Cancer Coalition reports that the numbers are climbing for those a bit younger. In recognition of March being Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, more attention is being given to promoting early detection through prevention and screening which can dramatically reduce diagnoses and subsequent fatalities from colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer, cancer of the colon and/or rectum, is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that 147,950 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed and an additional 53,200 could die from this disease in 2020. While family history, ethnicity and race can play a role in diagnoses, over 75 percent of colon and rectal cancers are diagnosed in people with no known risk factors further emphasizing the importance of early and regular screenings.

Early-stage colorectal cancers may show little or no symptoms at the onset. In addition to screenings, behavior modification which includes maintaining a healthy body weight, engaging in regular physical activity, limiting the intake of red and processed meats, and refraining from smoking can significantly reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

The American Cancer Society advises patients to be aware and follow up with a doctor if there is:

  • A change in bowel movements such as diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool that lasts more than a few days
  • Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
  • Blood in the stool, which may make the stool look dark
  • Persistent cramps, bloating, abdominal pain or lower back pain
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Anemia

There are several tests that may be prescribed by a physician to screen for colorectal cancer. These tests include stool-based tests that detect blood in the feces or a sigmoidoscopy where a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube is inserted into the rectum to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon. The aforementioned colonoscopy is similar to a sigmoidoscopy but utilizes a longer tube and examines the rectum as well as the entire colon. There is also a CT colonography or virtual colonoscopy which uses X-rays and computers to produce images of the entire colon which can then be analyzed.

For more information or to find a provider near you, please visit rwjbh.org/medicalgroup and select find a doctor, where you can search by physician name, specialty or location.