March is Colorectal Cancer Month and what better time than to take stock on our colorectal health. Think of it as changing your batteries in your smoke alarms when the clocks change!

Statistics show that if colorectal cancer is caught in its early stages (I and II), there is a survival rate of 80-95 percent and 55-80 percent, respectively. For this reason alone, the importance of getting your
colonoscopy or other necessary testing on a timely basis can make the difference in your colorectal health.

Screening Recommendations for Colorectal Cancer

The screening recommendations for colorectal cancer are as follows:

  • A person with an average risk of getting colorectal cancer should commence regular screenings at the age of 45 and every 10 years, thereafter.
  • If there has been a family history of colorectal cancer and/or a history of a certain types of polyps, more frequent screenings are recommended.
  • If there has been a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, including ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease—the recommendation is to get a screening for colorectal cancer every 1-2 years.
  • If certain genetic syndromes are present in the family’s history—the advice is to begin screening at a young age depending on the type of genetic syndrome(s) that are present.

Types of Colorectal Cancer Screenings

Deciding on the type of colorectal screening to obtain is all dependent on one’s risk factor (s). Whichever test is chosen, the crucial thing is to actually get it done! Condition of health and risk factors certainly does play into these decisions, and for that reason, the American Cancer Society
recommends the following for persons of average risk (people who are not considered to have the ‘high risk’ factors).

Stool-Based Tests:

  • Highly sensitive fecal immunochemical test—detects hidden ‘occult’ blood in the stool, not visible to the naked eye. These tests can be done yearly.
  • Highly sensitive guaiac—fecal occult blood test—this also tests for ‘occult’ blood in the stool and can
    be done yearly, as well.
  • Multi targeted DNA Stool Test— a newer non-invasive laboratory test that can detect changes in the DNA and abnormalities in the stool’s cells as it relates to colon cancer and polyps. This test is  performed every 3 years.

Visual exams

  • Colonoscopy—a procedure where a colonoscope or scope looks inside the colon and rectum to detect any sign of irritation, polyps, ulcers, swollen tissues or cancer. It is recommended that a person with an average risk should get a colonoscopy every 10 years.
  • Virtual Colonoscopy—this test can also detect irritation, polyps, ulcers, swollen tissues or cancer but is conducted with the use of x-rays and a computer that creates images of the colon and rectum. This test is recommended to be performed every 5 years.
  • Flexible Sigmoidoscopy—performed with a flexible, narrow tube that has a camera and tiny light on one end and the Sigmoidoscope looks inside the lower colon and rectum. This test is recommended to be performed every 5 years.

In general, individuals who are in good health with a life expectancy of at least 10 years, should remain on track to get the recommended colorectal screenings up to the age of 75. Beyond this age, screenings should be based on the doctor’s recommendations. The American Cancer Society
recommends that those over the age of 85 should no longer engage in screening for colorectal cancer.



By Bonnie Joffe for Volunteers in Medicine Clinic