Colorectal cancer

“Colon cancer is preventable. Get screened.” — Emina Huang, M.D.

Signs and symptoms: Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer include digestive problems or blood in stool, but these symptoms typically show up long after the cancer has established itself. This is why experts urge people to get screened.

Who is at high risk?: People at high risk for colorectal cancer include those who have first-degree family members (parents, siblings or aunts and uncles) who have had colorectal cancer or who have conditions that predispose them to it, such as inflammatory bowel syndrome or genetic diseases such as Lynch syndrome, says Emina Huang, M.D., a UF colorectal surgeon. Having a family history of other cancers can also put people at risk.

Screening techniques: The gold standard for colorectal cancer screening is the colonoscopy, says Thomas George, M.D., director of UF Health’s gastrointestinal oncology program. During a colonoscopy, doctors are looking for polyps, abnormal skin growths in the lining of the colon. Polyps can be a precursor to colon cancer, so if they are found, they are removed during a colonoscopy. Because of this, a colonoscopy serves as not just a screening for cancer, but also as a way to prevent it, George says. Other tests include fecal occult blood testing, which tests for trace amounts of blood in the stool. Although this screening method is valid, if blood is detected, the patient would still have to undergo a colonoscopy. A sigmoioscopy is similar to a colonoscopy but looks at a shorter length of the colon, and a virtual colonoscopy is a CT scan that allows doctors to see inside the colon but doesn’t give them the option of removing polyps if they spot them.

Recommendations: Experts recommend people who don’t have a family history of colon cancer or polyps undergo a colonoscopy at age 50. If you have family members who have had this form of cancer or polyps, talk to your doctor about getting a colonoscopy sooner. Typically, you’ll only need to have a colonoscopy every 10 years. Prevention: The best way to prevent colon cancer is to have a colonoscopy. “If a polyp stays in your colon, it has the potential to turn into cancer. All of this happens without you knowing it’s there. With a colonoscopy we can control getting the polyps out, and that in and of itself is cancer prevention,” George says.

Below we have a cancer-by-cancer breakdown of screening recommendations.

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