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Published on March 02, 2011

Finding Colorectal Cancer

March 2, 2011

Colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) is the second leading cause of death from cancer in the United States. In its earliest stages, colorectal cancer often has no symptoms. Because it is a "silent disease," routine screenings are essential. In many cases, screening tests can find colorectal cancer at an early stage, greatly increasing a person’s chance of survival.

To increase awareness of colorectal cancer screenings, Valley West is participating in Colorectal Cancer Awareness month by educating others about screenings available for this “silent disease.”

Currently, the following tests are available to screen for colorectal cancer:

  • Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) or Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT). Sometimes cancers can bleed. These tests are used to detect hidden (occult) blood in the stool. These tests are performed at home with a kit obtained from a healthcare provider. If blood is found, additional tests are needed to determine the cause of the bleeding.
  • Double Contrast Barium Enema. This test uses x-rays to view the colon. It involves filling the colon with barium (a chalky substance that helps produce clear x-ray images) and air to make small abnormalities more visible.
  • Colonoscopy. With this procedure, a colonoscope (a longer version of a sigmoidscope) is used to view the entire colon. Colonoscopy is also used to remove abnormal tissue so that it may be sent to a laboratory for evaluation.
  • Digital Rectal Exam. During a digital rectal exam (DRE) a doctor inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to feel for signs of tissue changes. Digital rectal exams are not recommended as stand-alone tests.

American Cancer Society (ACS) Screening Guidelines 

Beginning at age 50, men and women who are at average risk for developing colorectal cancer should have one  of the screening options below:

  • Colonoscopy every 10 years
  • Double-contrast barium enema every 5 years*
  • Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every year*,**

*Colonoscopy should be done if test results are positive. 
**The take-home multiple sample method should be used. An FOBT or FIT done during a digital rectal exam in the doctor's office is not an adequate screening.

The ACS screening guidelines are recommended for all people ages 50 and older that have no symptoms and are at average risk for developing colorectal cancer. Those at higher risk should begin screening at an earlier age and undergo more frequent screenings. High-risk individuals are those with a genetic predisposition for colorectal cancer, a personal or family history of the disease, certain lifestyle behaviors (i.e., poor diet, inactivity, and obesity), and/or inflammatory bowel disease. High-risk individuals should consult their physician to determine an appropriate screening schedule.

Anyone experiencing the following symptoms of colorectal cancer should see their doctor:

  • change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea and constipation, lasting more than a few days
  • blood in the stool
  • frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness, or cramps
  • feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
  • constant tiredness or weakness
  • unexplained weight loss

These symptoms can be caused by conditions other than cancer. Do not hesitate to contact your physician to determine the exact cause.

Source: National Cancer Institute (accessed 8.16.10), American Cancer Society(accessed 8.16.10)

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