Colorectal Cancer Screening? Just Do It!
Reprinted from the Community Connections Newsletter, Fall 2009
Colorectal cancer isn’t something people like to think about. But if you’re past 50, you shouldn’t just be thinking about it — you should pick up the phone and call your doctor to schedule a screening exam. That phone call could save your life.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in California, with 14,250 new cases expected in 2009. It’s also the third deadliest cancer, but nearly all these deaths can be prevented. "Colorectal cancer is more than 90 percent curable when found by screening tests before symptoms occur," says Leslie Paine, O.T.R., manager of Markstein Cancer Education and Prevention Services.
There are two most frequently recommended types of screenings — flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy — which both involve examining the inside of the colon with a flexible scope. These tests are available at the Alta Bates, Herrick and Summit campuses with a doctor’s referral.
A colonoscopy, which must be performed by a gastrointestinal specialist, examines the entire colon. Sigmoidoscopy is a similar test that examines just the rectum and lower portion of the colon, where two-thirds of cancers are found. If polyps are discovered during this screening, a full colonoscopy is then recommended.
These screenings can detect both precancerous polyps and early cancer. "If polyps are found, they can be clipped out during the examination, which stops them from becoming cancerous growths down the line," Leslie says. "Colorectal screenings are the only cancer screening tests that frequently can prevent a cancer.”"
Alternatively, an imaging test called a computerized tomographic colonoscopy — or virtual colonoscopy — is also available via physician referral in the Imaging Department on the Summit campus. If an abnormality is found, a regular colonoscopy should be done.
After age 50, everyone should have a sigmoidoscopy or virtual colonoscopy every five years, or a traditional colonoscopy every 10 years. If an immediate family member has been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, you may need more frequent screenings. The American Cancer Society also now recommends a fecal occult blood test and a stool DNA test (both done via stool samples) during the in-between years.
"Finances or lack of insurance does not have to be a barrier to these tests," says Leslie. "Markstein Cancer Services offers funded sigmoidoscopy screenings. Patients just need their doctor’s referral."
For more information, call Markstein Cancer Education and Prevention Services at (510) 869-8833.