Colorectal Cancer Screening & Prevention

What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer starts in the colon or the rectum. Referred to as colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where they start, they are grouped together as colorectal cancer as they have many elements in common.

Most colorectal cancers begin as polyps, which are growths on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Not all polyps become cancerous, but some types of polyps can become cancerous over time.

Most colorectal cancers are adenocarcinomas. According to the American Cancer Society, these cancers start in cells that make mucus to lubricate the inside of the colon and rectum. This is the most common type of colorectal cancer, though some sub-types may have a worse prognosis (potential outcome) than others.

Other, less common types of colorectal cancer include:

  • Carcinoid tumors
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs)
  • Lymphomas
  • Sarcomas

Why is screening for colorectal cancer important?

According to Fred Hutch – a leader in cancer research – colorectal cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the United States, and the second-most common cause of cancer deaths among men and women combined. However, the rate has been improving over the past few decades thanks to advancements in screenings and earlier diagnosis. Finding cancer early is key! Colorectal cancer is successfully treatable if detected early. That’s why the American Cancer Society recommends people of average risk to begin regular colorectal cancer screening at age 45.

What different screening tools are available?

A colonoscopy is the gold standard screening tool for colorectal cancer.  We recommend scheduling a colonoscopy as the most accurate screening test for colon cancer. In addition to the ability to biopsy samples, the physician can remove any suspicious-looking areas, such as polyps, during the same procedure. A screening colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years. However, there are other tools in the screening toolkit to help catch cancer early!

Another way to test for cancer is to look for blood in the stool with a fecal immunochemical test (FIT) – also known as a FIT kit. FIT kits are a simple and painless way to screen for colorectal cancer from the convenience of your own bathroom! Talk with your primary care provider if a FIT kit is appropriate for you.