What is colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer is a term that’s used for both colon cancer and rectal cancer. Like other types of cancer, colorectal cancer can spread to other parts of your body. The colon is the longest part of the large intestine, and the rectum is the bottom part of the large intestine.
People over age 50 are at higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. Other risk factors are:
- Polyps (growths) inside the colon
- Family history of colorectal cancer
- Not getting enough physical activity
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Health conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, which cause chronic inflammation (ongoing irritation) of the intestines
How often should I get screened?
Both men and women should get screened, but how often you get screened will depend on your risk for colorectal cancer. It will also depend on which screening test is used. There are different ways to test for colorectal cancer. Some tests are done every 1 to 2 years. Other tests are done every 5 to 10 years. You doctor can help you decide which test is right for you and how often to get screened. After the ag e of 75, most people can stop getting screened.
What to ask your doctor?
Visiting the doctor can be stressful and sometimes overwhelming, especially if you’re having anxiety about the appointment. So, writing down some questions ahead of time can help. You may also want to ask a family member or close friend to go with you to take notes. Here are some sample questions you can take with you to your appointment:
- What is my personal risk for colorectal cancer?
- When do you recommend that I start getting tested?
- How often do I need to get tested?
- What are the different types of screening tests for colorectal cancer?
- Which screening test do you recommend? Why?
- What’s involved in screening? How do I prepare?
- Are there any dangers or side effects of screening?
- How long will it take to get the results
What are the tests?
There are different kinds of tests used to screen for colorectal cancer. Four tests are used to screen for colorectal cancer:
- Fecal occult blood test
- Barium enema
Some tests you can do at home, such as a fecal occult blood test. Other tests, such as a colonoscopy, must be done in a clinic or hospital.
The day before the test, you may need to drink only clear liquids (like water or plain tea), and use laxatives to clean out your colon. Your doctor will tell you how to get ready for your test.
Some people find the tests for colorectal cancer to be uncomfortable. Most people agree that the benefits to their health outweigh the discomfort.
If you are nervous about getting a colorectal cancer test, get support.
- Ask a family member or friend to go with you.
- Talk with people you know who have been screened to learn what to expect.
What about cost?
Most insurance plans now cover colorectal screenings, and depending on your insurance, you may be able to get tested at no cost to you. Talk with your insurance company to find out about your coverage.
- If you have Medicare, find out about Medicare coverage for different colorectal cancer tests.
- If you have private insurance, talk to your insurance company to find out what’s included in your plan.
- If you don’t have insurance, you can still get important screening tests. To learn more, find a health center near you.
Take control – act early.
If you act early, you have a good chance of preventing colorectal cancer or finding it when it can be treated more easily.
- If your doctor finds polyps inside your colon during testing, these growths can be removed before they become cancer.
- If you find out you have cancer after you get tested, you can take steps to treat it right away.
Source: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services