by Dr. Phyliss Mason
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Natchitoches Regional Medical Center (NRMC) Women’s Health Center would like to share some information about colorectal cancer and screening methods. Colorectal cancer affects men and women of all racial and ethnic groups and is found most commonly in people aged 50 years and older. Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts out in the colon or rectum. It is the second leading cancer killer in the United States that affects both men and women.
As you age, your risk of getting colorectal cancer increases. However, other risk factors that you cannot change include having inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, a personal history of colorectal polyps, a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps. Lifestyle factors that may contribute to an increased risk of colorectal cancer include lack of physical activity, a diet low in fruit and vegetables, diet low in fiber, a diet high in fat, being overweight or obese, high levels of alcohol intake, and tobacco use.
Colorectal cancer often does not present with symptoms, which is why regular screening is important. If symptoms do appear, it is usually when the cancer has advanced. These symptoms may include blood in or on your stool with a bowel movement, stomach pain, or losing unexplained weight.
Colorectal cancer screening is used in men and women who do not have symptoms. These screening tests include stool testing, sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, and CT colonography. Stool testing is recommended yearly and relies on the person to collect a stool sample to be tested. Sigmoidoscopy is done every 5 to 10 years with stool testing yearly. This procedure involves a doctor putting a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube into your rectum. The doctor checks for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower portion of the colon. A colonoscopy is completed every 10 years. This procedure consists of a doctor putting a longer, thin, flexible, lighted tube into your rectum to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon. During the test, the doctor can find and remove most polyps and some cancers. CT colonography is a done every 5 years. For this testing, X-rays and computers are used to produce images of the entire colon, which are displayed on a computer screen for the doctor to analyze.
There is no single “best test” for any person. Each test has advantages and disadvantages. Talking with your doctor about the pros and cons of each test, and how often to be tested will help you and your doctor pick the best method for you.
NRMC Women’s Health Center and its staff would like to answer any questions you may have regarding colorectal screening. Please call our office at (318) 238-3652 or come by our office at 655 Bienville Cr. Natchitoches, LA 71457 during our office hours of Monday through Thursday 8:00 – 5:00 and Friday 8:00 – 12:00.