This is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so its a good time to go over the basics of colon cancer one of the most common forms of cancer. An important fact to keep in mind is that by the time symptoms or signs of colon cancer are apparent, the cancer has often become advanced. Caught early, colon cancer is curable. Thats why screening for colon cancer is so important.
Several tests may be used to diagnose colorectal cancer. In addition to a physical exam which includes a digital rectal examination, as well as an evaluation of general medical history, several other tests can be performed.
Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) With a test kit, the patient takes a small stool sample at home, and the sample is sent to a lab and checked for the presence of blood.
Sigmoidoscopy enables a doctor to examine the part of your large intestine that includes the rectum and sigmoid colon. A flexible viewing tube with a lens and light source on the end, called a sigmoidoscope, is used. Looking through the eyepiece at the other end of the scope, the doctor can see the inside of the colon. In this test, the doctor can check for cancer, abnormal growths (polyps) and ulcers. It is usually performed in the doctor's office, and can take 15-30 minutes. Beginning at age 50, a sigmoidoscopy is usually performed every 3 to 5 years to screen for colorectal cancer. In people who are at higher risk for colorectal cancer due to ulcerative colitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a family history of colorectal cancer, or familial polyposis, screening may be recommended starting at age 35.
Colonoscopy is a test to examine the inside of the colon and goes beyond the areas a sigmoidoscopy examines. This procedure uses a colonoscope, which is a flexible tube with lenses, a tiny TV camera and a light at the end. Through fiber-optic technology and a video computer chip, the colonoscope can scan the inside of the colon and transmit images to a video screen. An attachment at the end of the colonoscope may be used to take a biopsy of the tissue in your colon. If a polyp is found, it may be removed using a wire loop attachment on the colonoscope. Both biopsies and polyps will be sent to a laboratory for further testing. The colonoscopy procedure can take up to 1 1/2 hours and is often performed in a hospital as an outpatient procedure.For colon cancer screening, a colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years after age 50 for people not at high risk. People with risk factors should be tested more often; ask your doctor whats right for you.Barium Enema: This is an X-ray that uses barium sulfate and air to outline the lining of the rectum and colon. Barium sulfate is a chalky chemical that shows up as white on X-ray film. The barium is given in an enema, which is then 'held' inside the colon while X-rays are taken. Intestinal abnormalities may appear as dark silhouettes or patterns along the intestinal lining on the X-ray. Air may be pumped into the colon to help sharpen the outline of the intestinal wall. A barium enema can be performed as an outpatient procedure, and usually takes about 45 minutes. A barium enema is used to check for polyps, diverticulosis, tumors, or other abnormalities. Beginning at age 50, a barium enema may be recommended once every 5 to 10 years instead of a colonoscopy for people not at high risk.
For those who cringe at the thought of a colonoscopy, there is hope on the horizon. A new type of test is being developed at the Mayo Clinic. This new test would require patients to provide stool. The stool is tested for abnormal cells. In a recent study, this test was found to be 91% effective in detecting colon cancer. This new technology is being tested for three years before it will be available to patients.Robin Westen is ThirdAges medical reporter. Check for her daily updates. She is the author of Relationship Repair.See what others have to say about this story or leave a comment of our own.