|Colon cancer screening: choosing what's right for you|
Many doctors recommend that people 50 and older get regularly tested for colon cancer. Doing so reduces the chances of dying from the disease. Still, you have a choice about whether to be screened. And if you do want to be screened, you have several options. Each screening option is effective in preventing cancer deaths, but some may be more effective than others. To decide what’s best for you, you’ll need to understand how each test works.
With the exception of the stool test for blood, all the screening tests require that people take a strong laxative and/or an enema to empty the bowel before the test. The stool test for blood looks for blood in the stool. The other tests look for cancerous tumors or “polyps,” abnormal growths that could become cancer. If any test shows a possible sign of cancer, it is usually followed up by colonoscopy (described below). Screening options for colon cancer include the following:
• Stool test for blood (also called the fecal occult blood test): This test involves collecting three separate stool samples. It is not physically uncomfortable, and it is the only test you can do at home.
• Sigmoidoscopy: During sigmoidoscopy, doctors examine the inside of the rectum and lower part of the colon using a flexible tube called a sigmoidoscope. A sigmoidoscopy does not usually require sedation, which is a medication to relax you and dull pain. However, some people experience some pain or discomfort.
• Stool test for blood + sigmoidoscopy: Combining these two tests may be more effective than using either test alone. If you choose to have both tests, they will be done on different days.
• Colonoscopy: Colonoscopy resembles sigmoidoscopy, but it allows doctors to see the entire colon, not just the lower part. Sedation is used for a colonoscopy, so it’s usually not uncomfortable. But having sedation makes the test slightly riskier and more time-consuming. Some people choose this test because the colon can be examined and any polyps can be removed in one procedure.
• Barium enema: Doctors introduce liquid barium into the colon to make the bowel easy to see on an x-ray. However, scientists are not yet sure how effective these tests are in reducing deaths from colon cancer. The procedure does not require sedation. People differ in how much discomfort they feel.
• CT colography: Also called virtual colonoscopy, this approach takes a CT scan (a series of x-rays) of the colon. CT colography is still being studied to determine how effective it is. Sedatives are generally not used, and recovery time is relatively short.
Learn more from a MyHealthConnection health coach
To learn more about colon cancer screening, call a health coach at (800) 658-2750. Health coaches are specially trained healthcare professionals, such as nurses, dietitians, and respiratory therapists. They are available by phone, anytime, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at no charge to you. If appropriate, a health coach will send you a complimentary videotape, “Colon Cancer Screening: Deciding What’s Right for You.” You can also get information online at www.webURL.com.
This information is provided by NDPERS.
-- Amanda Eickhoff, Coordinator of Wellness, Wellness Center, firstname.lastname@example.org, 777-0210