Colon cancer is cancer of the colon (large intestine), and rectal cancer is cancer of the rectum (the last several inches of the colon). Together, these two diseases are typically referred to as colorectal cancers. According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women in the United States. The death rate for colorectal cancer has been dropping for the past several decades, possibly due to increased awareness and screening for the disease. Advances in treatment have also been made over the years. Colorectal cancer usually occurs in older adults, but it can develop at any age.
In most cases, colon cancer is the result of benign polyps that become cancerous over time. When polyps are removed early, cancer can be avoided and the proper screening schedule can be put in place so that the individual can stay on top of their digestive health throughout their life. Regular screenings are recommended as a preventative measure against colon cancer to identify polyps early. How often you should be screened depends on several factors, including your family history of colorectal cancer and your personal digestive health history. At Digestive Healthcare Center, we proudly perform screening tests for colon cancer, including colonoscopy in NJ, to promote the positive digestive health of all of our patients. Learn more about colorectal cancer and why screening is so important.
Several factors can increase someone’s risk of developing colorectal cancers during their life. Some of these risk factors can be controlled, while others cannot. They include:
Several symptoms can indicate the presence of cancer in the colon or rectum. In the early stages, there may not be any symptoms, and symptoms may develop as the cancer progresses. Symptoms can also depend on the location of the cancer and its size. It is important to remember that the symptoms of colon cancer can overlap with a variety of other digestive health conditions – you should always visit a gastroenterologist to determine the cause of any symptoms you are experiencing so the right next steps can be taken. Symptoms of colorectal cancer can include:
Ideally, polyps in the colon and rectum are identified and removed before they have a chance to turn into cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends beginning regular screening at age 45 in average-risk people. You can find additional information on colorectal cancer screening in New Jersey below. Colorectal cancer is diagnosed through colonoscopy – biopsies can be taken of suspicious areas or lesions and then tested for cancer in a lab. Although blood tests cannot diagnose colon cancer, they may also be used as part of the diagnostic process to provide your doctor with more information about your overall health.
Treatments for colorectal cancers largely depend on the stage of cancer. Your doctor will determine the best treatment strategy based on your unique situation. Certain surgical methods can be utilized for both early and advanced cancer. Your doctor may also recommend chemotherapy, which is often utilized after surgery if the cancer has spread elsewhere in the body. Radiation therapy may also be used in conjunction with chemotherapy or to relieve symptoms. Your gastroenterologist in NJ can recommend a surgeon if surgery is determined to be the best next step for you.
Colonoscopies are the gold standard of screening for colorectal cancer. During a colonoscopy, a doctor uses a flexible scope with a camera and light at the end to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon. During the test, the doctor can find, remove, and take samples of any polyps that may be present. A colonoscopy is also used as a follow-up test if anything unusual is found during one of the other types of colorectal screening tests. The American Cancer Society now recommends screening at 45 years old and then every ten years, unless instructed more often by a doctor.
Cologuard is a convenient and non-invasive screening test for colorectal cancer that has been gaining popularity in recent years. Through an analysis of stool, this test looks for changes in your DNA and traces of blood in the stool that could indicate the presence of cancer or polyps. A Cologuard test kit needs to be prescribed by your doctor. Using the items in the kit, you will collect a sample of stool and send it to a lab, where it will be analyzed. Cologuard has become popular because it is risk-free and does not require any preparation. However, Cologuard should only be used as an initial screening test for people at average risk of colon cancer. It can sometimes miss precancerous polyps and also carries a high risk of false positive results. If you receive a positive result from your Cologuard test, you will need a colonoscopy. Learn more about Cologuard from Dr. Gingold here.
Computed tomography (CT) colonography, also called a virtual colonoscopy, uses X-rays and computers to produce images of the entire colon. Doctors view these images on a computer screen to analyze the colon more closely. The goal of screening with CT colonography is to find polyps in their early stages before cancer has a chance to develop. If a polyp is found by a CT colonography exam, the patient would need a colonoscopy to remove it.
A sigmoidoscopy is similar to, but not the same as, a colonoscopy. A sigmoidoscopy only examines up to the sigmoid, the most distal part of the colon, while a colonoscopy examines the entire large bowel. For this test, the doctor puts a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube into your rectum to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon. It is an alternative option, but not as good as colonoscopy, as it may miss up to 40% of colon cancers.
A guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) uses the chemical guaiac to detect blood in the stool. For this test, you will receive a test kit from your healthcare provider containing a stick or brush to obtain a small amount of stool. You then return the test kit to the doctor or a lab, where the stool samples are checked for the presence of blood. Guaiac-based fecal occult blood tests are an easy way of checking and monitoring a healthy digestive tract. If abnormalities are found through the stool test, you will need a colonoscopy.
At Digestive Healthcare Center, we are dedicated to providing our patients with the information and services they need to promote positive digestive health, along with identifying and removing colon polyps before they have a chance to develop into cancer. Our board-certified gastroenterologists have years of experience performing various tests and procedures focused on gastrointestinal health. We diagnose and treat digestive health conditions at our offices in Hillsborough and Somerville, NJ, along with meeting with patients via virtual telemedicine appointments from the comfort of their homes. To learn more about the services we provide or when you should start getting screened for colorectal cancer, please contact us to schedule an appointment today!
If you are experiencing symptoms that cause you discomfort or concern, please do not hesitate to reach out to DHC to schedule an appointment. We are proud to serve patients at our three gastroenterology centers in NJ and want to help you stay on top of your digestive health.