March 12, 2021
Colorectal cancer is the third-most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women in the U.S. each year. While this may not be a popular conversation, I believe now is the time to raise awareness about this type of cancer. As a gastroenterologist, I have always told my patients that the gold standard of screening for colorectal cancer is a colonoscopy. These screenings are usually done before any signs or symptoms of the disease appear.
Screenings are important to ensure our body stays healthy. They can detect any concerning developments, which may include early signs of cancer. Colon polyps are a common finding in colorectal screenings. It is essential to remove these polyps before they may become cancerous. Tests that detect polyps and colorectal cancer look at the colon’s structure to find any abnormal areas, usually with a scope or X-ray test. Polyps found at this stage can usually be removed before they become cancerous.
In many cases, there are no obvious symptoms with colon cancer, but there are some that can be warning signs and should be discussed with your physician:
- Any major change in bowel habits
- Blood in the stool that is either bright red, black or tarry
- Unintentional weight loss
- Stools that are narrower than usual
- Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
- General abdominal discomfort, such as frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness and/or cramps
- Constant feeling of fatigue or tiredness
- New onset anemia diagnosed on routine lab work
The American College of Gastroenterology recommends a colonoscopy every ten years for adults 45 years of age or older. Depending on your risk, there are alternative tests that can be conducted.
If you are at an increased or higher risk of colorectal cancer, speak with your doctor about when you should begin screening. You may be at a higher risk for developing colorectal cancer if you have:
A personal history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps
- A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease
- A strong family history of colorectal cancer or polyps
- A known family history of a hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome
A regular colorectal cancer screening is one of the most powerful weapons against colorectal cancer, so be sure to talk to your doctor about your screening schedule.
Mohsen Hasanin, M.D. is a gastroenterologist at TriStar Horizon Medical Center.