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Colonoscopy Isn't Only Way to Detect Colon Cancer: Experts

Colonoscopy Isn't Only Way to Detect Colon Cancer: Experts

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By    |   Thursday, 18 August 2016 03:07 PM

When people reach 50 they expect their doctor will recommend they undergo a colonoscopy. But many people may not want to undergo the procedure, so experts are spreading the word that this is not the only way to detect colon cancer early.    

“The evidence doesn’t point to one test being better than the other,” Dr. Douglas Owens tells Newsmax Health. “Our main message is that screening works, and people should discuss it with their doctor and choose the method that’s right for them.”

Owens is a former member of the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF), which recently updated its screening guidelines.

One in 21 U.S. men and one in 23 women can expect to develop colon or rectal cancer. This makes colon cancer the third most common cancer in the U.S., and it is also the second deadliest, statistics say.

Colonoscopy has received a great deal of attention, because it not only can detect early colon cancer, but also because doctor can remove any polyps that could turn cancerous. Colon cancer occurs when polyps, originally benign, become malignant.

“The gold standard for screening is colonoscopy because you can not only get in there but you can also remove polyps before they can turn into cancer. It’s the only cancer that signals ‘I am here, clip me out,’ ” says Anne Carlson, executive director of the Colon Cancer Coalition.

Here’s a rundown of the colon cancer screening tests that the USPSTF recommends for people age 50-75. People older than 75 should discuss the issue with their doctor, the USPSTF notes.

There are two basic types of tests the USPSTF recommends: Stool-based tests and those that involve direct visualization of the colon. Here's a rundown:

  • gFOBT:  This test uses the chemical guaiac to detect blood in small samples of stool.  It should be done annually.
  • FIT:  Done in the same way as the gFOBT, this test uses antibodies to detect blood in the stool. Annually.
  • FIT-DNA: This test uses an entire bowel movement, which is then sent to a lab to detect cancer cells.  May not need to be redone for one-to-three years.
  • Colonoscopy: Uses a long, lighted tube to directly view the rectum and the entire colon.  Every 10 years
  • Virtual colonoscopy: Similar to a colonoscopy, but non-invasive. Should be done every five years.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy: Similar to a colonoscopy, but only shows a portion of the colon.  If combined with the FIT stool test, can be done every 10 years.

No matter which method is used, the important message is to get screened, Carlson says.

“The survival rate for colon cancer when caught in the early stages is over 90 percent, but this drops to 6-10 percent when the disease has spread, which is when it is too often diagnosed. This is why screening is so important,” says Carlson.

“The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] did a study because they thought the problem was the prep but it wasn’t .... What people were concerned about was fear of the anesthesia or that the colon would get nicked, which is really a small percentage."

People who are concerned about the invasive aspect of a colonoscopy but still want to a noninvasive test that offers direct viewing of the colon should consider virtual colonoscopy, says Carlson. 

“There is a misperception that virtual colonoscopy does not require prep. It does, but it also uses CT-scanning instead of a probe,” she says, noting that such a test may be the best for those that have oddly shaped colons that cannot be viewed conventionally, or for those who are elderly.

Currently, Medicare and Medicaid cover colonoscopy but they don’t reimburse for virtual colonoscopy.  Carlson’s organization is among those urging that this be changed.

“No matter which test you choose, you should always check about costs and co-payments,” she notes. 

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Many people dislike the idea of undergoing a colonoscopy but experts say that there are options that are just as good for detecting colon cancer, a leading cause of death in the U.S. Here's what you need to know about your options.
colon, cancer, prevention, colonoscopy, screening
Thursday, 18 August 2016 03:07 PM
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