The Importance of Colorectal Screenings for the Prevention and Early Detection of Colon Cancer

Posted at 7:57 PM on Mar 7, 2023
Importance of Colorectal Screenings

What is colon cancer?

Colorectal cancer is a type of cancer that affects the colon and rectum. It is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and women and the second most common cause of cancer death in the United States.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the overall lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 23 (4.3%) for men and 1 in 25 (4.0%) for women. In 2022, an estimated 147,950 new cases of colon cancer and 44,180 new cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed. It is expected to cause about 53,000 deaths in 2022.

Colon Cancer Risk Factors

Many factors affect your risk for developing colorectal cancer, such as family history, smoking, being overweight, poor diet, lack of exercise, IBD, and age. The death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping in both men and women for several decades. One reason is that colorectal polyps are now being found and removed more often by screening colonoscopies. Cancers are also being found earlier when they are easier to treat, thanks to screening colonoscopies. Screening typically starts at age 45 but may be earlier based on your family history.

Regular colorectal cancer screenings are important because they can help detect the disease early when it is most treatable.

Types of Colorectal Cancer Screenings

There are a few common types of colorectal cancer screenings, including non-invasive stool-based tests, such as the fecal immunochemical test (FIT) and Cologuard, and a more invasive imaging test called a colonoscopy. Other screening methods are gFOBT and sigmoidoscopy, which are used less often due to less accurate results and inconvenient testing requirements.

Stool-based tests detect abnormalities in the stool, like blood or other colon cancer markers, which can be signs of colorectal cancer. They are performed every 1-3 years. For each of these tests, a stool sample is examined for abnormalities. If present, the person moves on to getting a colonoscopy. If no abnormalities are found in their stool sample, their test is negative, and repeat screening is done 1-3 years later.

A colonoscopy allows doctors to examine the inside of the colon and rectum, identify any abnormalities, such as polyps or cancer, and remove any abnormal polyps. Colonoscopies are performed every 5-10 years.

Colonoscopy is considered the gold standard test for screening for colon cancer, meaning it's the most accurate and simultaneously removes abnormal tissue from your colon.

Research shows colonoscopy detects over 95% of all colorectal cancers, while Cologuard detects 92% of colorectal cancers and only 42% of precancerous polyps. FIT detects cancer about 74% of the time. Cologuard and FIT tests have a high false positive rate. Some people may test positive with either test but not have cancer. 

The Importance of Colorectal Screenings

Patient with Doctor

One of the main reasons colorectal screenings are so important is that they can help detect precancerous growths known as polyps, which can be removed before they become cancer. Some polyps found in the colon are benign and unlikely to become cancer. Polyps are common and do not typically cause symptoms in their early stages, so regular screenings are important.

Because screening colonoscopies find and remove polyps when they are small, they help detect colorectal cancer in its earliest stages. Like most cancers, if detected early, there is a much higher chance of successful treatment and recovery. Early-stage colorectal cancer is often more treatable than later-stage cancer, and the chances of successful treatment are much higher.

Remember, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the US, with an estimated 53,000 deaths from colon cancer and 9,300 deaths from rectal cancer in 2022. However, because more people are getting their regular screenings, the fatality rate of this type of cancer has been declining for several decades.

When do Screenings Begin?

The recommended age for beginning colorectal cancer screenings varies depending on a person's risk factors. Still, it is generally recommended that people get regular colorectal cancer screenings starting at age 45. People with a family history of colorectal cancer or other risk factors may need to get screened earlier.

Schedule Your Screening Today

We get it. Colonoscopies are not "fun". However, it's important to remember that the inconvenience of the prep the day before the procedure and the slight discomfort you may experience during the procedure is well worth it. Early diagnosis is critical to successfully treating many types of illnesses and cancers. Schedule your visit today!