FRIDAY, July 1 (HealthDay News) -- It may sound simple:
Colorectal cancer is generally considered one of the most
preventable types of cancer that people can develop. So get
screened and prevent it.
But the devil is in the details. Cancer experts have found much
confusion regarding the guidelines for when and how people should
be screened for colon cancer.
A precise colorectal cancer screening can locate pre-cancerous
polyps within the colon. Polyps can be removed and, once gone,
their potential to cause colon cancer is gone, too.
However, a study released last fall by the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention found that only one in five doctors
in the United States follow all recommended colon cancer screening
guidelines. Most correctly recommend that screening begin at age
50, but they're inconsistent in describing the screening options
and how often they should be utilized, the CDC reported.
"We have made some progress getting physicians on board with screening, but now we need to make sure they know which tests work, which tests don't work, and that there can be too-frequent testing," said Dr. Durado Brooks, director of prostate and colorectal cancers for the American Cancer Society.
The result has been a lot of head-scratching among patients,
cancer experts say.
"I work a lot with the public, and there's definitely unfamiliarity with what age to begin getting screened, and which screening tool to use," said Suzette Smith, the Prevent Cancer Foundation's director of partnerships for colorectal cancer screening.
About 142,570 new cases of colorectal cancer were reported in
2010, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, and about
51,370 people died from the disease.
Most of those deaths could have been prevented through
screening, the CDC maintains, but nearly half of all colorectal
cancers are not detected until they've reached a late stage,
according to the agency.
Part of the problem involves a lack of awareness, Brooks said.
"There are a number of different tests available for screening, and
patients need to be made aware of their options so they can take
the test they are comfortable with," he said.
Colonoscopy has long been regarded as the "gold standard" for
colon cancer screening, Smith said. And with good reason: It is a
very thorough test, and doctors can remove any polyps as they find
them without making people undergo a second procedure.
But some people remain reluctant to have a colonoscopy, Brooks
said. Again, with good reason: Preparing for a colonoscopy can be
quite unpleasant, and it is an invasive procedure that requires
sedation and comes with some risk, though small.
"It's not a procedure you want people to go through if they don't need to have the test," Brooks said. "On the other hand, colonoscopy is the test that needs to be performed if any of the other tests come back abnormal."
The CDC's recommendations for colon cancer screening actually
call for a mix of screening tests. Starting at age 50, the agency
says, people should receive:
The American Cancer Society recommends other screening options.
For instance, people could have either a barium enema or a virtual
colonoscopy every five years in lieu of a flexible sigmoidoscopy,
if they so chose.
Virtual colonoscopy is the most recent screening test to be
developed for colon cancer. It involves the use of CT scans to
inspect the lining of the colon. And virtual colonoscopy has grown
in credibility in recent years.
"There have been now enough large studies in multiple settings to show that virtual colonoscopy is almost as good as traditional colonoscopy in detecting cancers, and it also does a good job at detecting large polyps," Brooks said.
But there are downsides, Smith said. People undergoing virtual
colonoscopy have to endure the same unpleasant preparation rituals
used for regular colonoscopy. And, if anything is found, they will
have to have a regular colonoscopy for further examination and
One more thing people should keep in mind, she said: Everyone --
not just men -- should be screened for colon cancer.
"A popular misconception is that colon cancer affects only men, when it affects men and women at equal rates," Smith said.
The American Cancer Society has more about
A companion article looks at
one state's effort to improve its dire statistics
on colorectal cancer.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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