In the States Together, colon cancer affects men and women equally. It is the third most common type of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in both sexes. National guidelines recommend that, starting at age 50, all men and women undergo screening for colon cancer, even if they do not have symptoms or have a family history of it.
Researchers believe that colon polyps are precursors of colon cancer. For that reason, the detection and removal of polyps can reduce the risk of developing the disease. Current detection methods include colonoscopy, barium enema with double contrast or DCBE and flexible sigmoidoscopy combined with fecal occult blood tests.
Colonoscopy is considered the key study for the detection of polyps. The procedure consists in passing from a flexible camera through a clean colon, which allows the doctor to visualize all its coating. The advantage of colonoscopy is that it allows colon polyps or lesions to be removed and examined under a microscope. Generally, this procedure is performed while the patient is sedated.
During a barium enema with double contrast, the doctor places a small tube in the rectum and fills the colon with air and barium, which highlights the area to allow obtaining an X-ray plate. The polyps or other irregularities will appear on the radiographs. The disadvantage of this procedure is that it can miss small injuries. In addition, if an injury is found, the patient should have the colon cleaned again to undergo a colonoscopy.
Flexible sigmoidoscopy is an office procedure in which a flexible camera is passed through the rectum to the left colon, over an area of approximately two feet. It does not require sedation and is a safe method. While it allows for an adequate evaluation of the part of the colon that it is able to reach, it overlooks polyps and injuries that are beyond its reach.
The occult blood test in the stool identifies the presence of blood in a series of stool samples. Polyps and colon cancer often involve light bleeding in the stool. This test, capable of identifying it, is easy and inexpensive, but it is only a detection tool. If the test is positive, it must be followed by a colonoscopy that identifies the location of the polyps and, possibly, treats the source. For the detection of polyps and cancer, it must be combined with a flexible sigmoidoscopy and, even so, many injuries can be overlooked.Colonoscopy is the best tool when used as indicated by national guidelines.
Your doctor can recommend different treatment options if you have signs or symptoms, or have a family history of colon cancer. Detection is often determined by the type of screening performed and by the results of the initial tests.
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