The reality is, for most people, talking about their colon is an embarrassing topic and I think there is a certain amount of dread about prepping for a colonoscopy. The real take-away here is that taking early action can prevent most colon and rectal cancers from ever happening.
When it comes to screening, is colonoscopy still considered the gold standard test or are less invasive screening tests just as effective?
Colonoscopy is still the gold standard screening test because it has the added advantage of being diagnostic and therapeutic with a single exam. If a polyp is discovered during the exam, it can be immediately removed, preventing it from becoming cancerous. As with any procedure, there is always a small amount of inherent risk, but this is far outweighed by the potential benefits.
There are other CRC tests available to patients that are considered somewhat less invasive, and while they can also be less reliable, they’re great to just get your toe in the water. Those found to have a polyp or suspected cancer during the other types of screening examination are then referred for colonoscopy.
With that said, choosing one of these other recommended screenings is better than no screening at all. Screening is such a powerful tool in combating CRC.
If a precancerous polyp is found during the screening exam, the patient is cured before they even develop a cancer. If cancer is found at an early stage during the screening exam, while small and before it has spread, it is more easily treated. It’s estimated 9 out of 10 people whose colon cancer is discovered early will be still alive five years later.
When should CRC screening start?
For most asymptomatic people, it's recommended to start between the ages of 45 and 50. However, some people should start screening much earlier.
For instance, people who have a strong family history of colorectal cancer should begin screening as early as their mid-20s, pending conversations with their doctor.