Colon cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths around the world. The good news is that it is highly preventable and treatable if detected early. In an effort to enhance prevention and improve early diagnosis, new guidelines for colon cancer screening have been issued. These guidelines aim to help individuals understand when and how often they should undergo screening tests.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) recently updated its recommendations for regular colon cancer screening. The new guidelines suggest that individuals at average risk should begin screening at the age of 45, which is a change from the previous recommendation of starting at 50. This change is based on studies showing an alarming increase in the incidence of colon cancer among younger adults, particularly those between the ages of 45 and 49.
The ACS recommends several screening options, including colonoscopy, stool-based tests, and computed tomographic colonography (CTC). A colonoscopy is a highly effective procedure that allows a doctor to examine the entire colon for cancer or precancerous polyps. Stool-based tests, on the other hand, analyze stool samples in order to detect microscopic amounts of blood or specific DNA changes that may indicate the presence of cancer or precancerous polyps. The newest option, CTC, uses a CT scan to produce detailed images of the colon which are then assessed for any abnormalities.
The frequency of screening tests depends on the method chosen. For individuals who opt for a colonoscopy, this procedure is typically recommended every ten years if no polyps or suspicious findings are detected. Stool-based tests should be performed annually, while CTC is generally performed every five years if no abnormalities are found.
It’s important to note that these guidelines are intended for individuals who are at average risk of developing colon cancer. Those with a family history of colon cancer, certain genetic conditions, a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, or a previous diagnosis of colorectal polyps or cancer may need to start screening earlier or undergo more frequent tests.
While the updated guidelines are a step in the right direction, it is crucial for individuals to remember that every person is unique, and medical decisions should be made in consultation with a healthcare professional. Factors such as personal medical history, family history, and individual risk factors should all be taken into account when determining the appropriate screening method and frequency. Additionally, symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, changes in bowel habits, or abdominal pain should never be ignored, and individuals experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.
Colon cancer is a preventable disease, and regular screening can significantly reduce the risk of developing this deadly condition. The new guidelines emphasizing earlier screening can potentially lead to the detection of colon cancer at its earliest stages, when it is most treatable. By staying informed and discussing screening options with a healthcare provider, individuals can take an active role in their own healthcare and work towards preventing colon cancer or catching it in its early stages, ensuring a better chance of survival and improved quality of life.