If the idea of a colonoscopy makes you cringe, there are less invasive tests you can take at home that can help detect early signs of colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts in the colon or the rectum.
Not counting skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer and is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths for both men and women. That means approximately 50,000 people will die from colorectal cancer in 2014.
The good news is that the number of colorectal cancer-related deaths has been dropping in both men and women for the last 20 years. This is in part due to successful early detection and removal of polyps in the intestines.
Polyps are growths that can form on the inside walls of the intestines. Over time, polyps may turn into cancer. Early detection and removal of polyps can reduce the odds of colorectal cancer.
The most effective method to detect both colorectal polyps and cancer is a colonoscopy. During this procedure, the doctor inserts a tiny camera mounted on a tube about the size of a finger into the intestine. This allows the medical team to look for and potentially remove polyps.
Researchers recommend that people with normal risks for colorectal cancer should have a colonoscopy every 10 years beginning at age 50.
For people who choose not to have a colonoscopy or who want to start with a less invasive method of testing, there are tests that may find colorectal cancer, but are less likely to detect polyps.
• FOBT – Fecal occult blood tests look for blood in a stool specimen or feces. Blood that cannot be seen with the naked eye is known as “occult”. FOBT uses a chemical reaction to test for blood in the stool.
Large polyps or cancer in the colon or rectum often bleed slightly as a bowel movement passes by them. This blood can be detected by the test.
Because the chemical in FOBT reacts with any type of blood – animal or human – the test can be affected by eating certain foods such as red meat. For this reason there are usually diet restrictions in the days leading up to taking the test.