Whenever inquiring about colorectal cancer screening, doctors are accustomed to hearing excuses. “Not right now,” the patient may say. Or “I’ll think about it.”
These patients may be embarrassed or worried about perceived pain or discomfort. They may think they are at low risk because they have had no symptoms.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths (after lung cancer), and screening is particularly effective at detecting cancer at an early treatable stage — even preventing it in some cases. There is really no excuse for not being screened since some options are simple, easy, inexpensive, non-invasive and cause neither pain nor discomfort.
Fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) and fecal immunochemical testing (FIT) are two of those simple options. Either test requires only a kit that you use in the privacy of your bathroom, collecting samples from several bowel movements. It’s all very private. FBOT requires some minor changes in your diet, such as avoiding red meat, right before the test; FIT does not.
The idea behind these tests is to see if there are small amounts of blood hidden in the stool, suggesting pre-cancerous polyps or cancerous growths. If results show hidden blood, a follow-up colonoscopy must be performed for diagnosis and treatment.
Colonoscopy is widely recommended as one of the most effective screening tests. It reduces colorectal cancer deaths by 60 to 70 percent, according to studies. It also has the advantage of being able to remove any abnormalities that are found during the same procedure.
During a colonoscopy, a flexible lighted tube, or scope, is inserted into the rectum and threaded through the entire length of the colon. Air is pumped into the colon to expand it and make viewing easier. Since the patient is given either general anesthesia or sedation, the whole procedure is less uncomfortable than the description suggests.
Many patients find the preparation for a colonoscopy more disagreeable than the procedure itself, since prep involves the need to clear the bowels. You need to quit eating solid foods a day ahead, then take a substance that triggers a powerful bowel-clearing diarrhea.
These screenings may save your life by detecting cancer at a treatable stage or even preventing cancer in some cases. There is really no excuse for delaying. Make an appointment with your doctor today and ask about colorectal cancer screening.
Dr. Morris W. Beebe III, a gastroenterologist with Baptist Health Medical Group Gastroenterology, practices at Baptist Health Corbin.