5 Benefits of Colorectal Screening Tests
Going to the doctor can be a source of anxiety, especially as you get older. With each passing year, it can seem like your doctor is adding on more screening tests. You might even be avoiding your doctor for this reason.
While exams and tests can seem excessive, they are extremely important for prevention. You might not have a certain health problem now, but knowing quickly if you do can expand treatment options and increase your chances of a long life.
If you're concerned about colorectal disease, including colorectal cancer, or you're worried about the screenings involved, this article is for you. Read on to learn about colorectal diseases, the benefits of getting tested, and what each screening involves.
What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer is the development of tumors in your colon or rectum, which sit at the lower end of your digestive tract. Like many other cancers, the early stages can often go without symptoms and detection.
Doctors can treat colorectal cancer and cure it easily when detected early.
Colorectal cancer starts as small noncancerous polyps. If left alone, these polyps can grow, eventually causing symptoms.
Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer
As with other types of cancer, certain groups of people are more likely to develop polyps. If you've already had occurrences of polyps or cancer, you are at a higher risk of developing it again. If not, there are some other risk factors to be aware of:
- Heavy alcohol use
- Heavy smoking
- Low-fiber, high-fat diets
- Family history of colorectal cancer
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Inflammatory conditions in the intestines
- Syndromes that increase colon cancer risk, like Lynch syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
- Being African-American
- Being over the age of 50
If you fit one or more of these categories, you should be aware of your heightened risk.
Causes for Colorectal Cancer
Like other cancers, colorectal cancer doesn't have a proven cause. Doctors can only target similar traits of people who are at higher risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Cancer, in general, is caused by healthy cells developing mutations that result in uncapped growth. These tumors invade space that was not meant for the growth of these cells, pressing on healthy tissue. They can also break off and travel to other parts of your body, depositing the mutation elsewhere.
To help prevent the occurrence of colorectal cancer, you can choose to make some changes to your lifestyle:
- Eating more of a variety, including fruits, grains, and vegetables
- Stop smoking
- Achieve or maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise more
- Reduce alcohol consumption
Following these simple lifestyle choices can not only help decrease your risk of colorectal cancer but most other diseases.
Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
If your precancerous polyps have gone undetected, you might start experiencing symptoms. The type of symptoms and the severity can differ according to the location and size of your polyps or tumors.
You may notice:
- Rectal bleeding or bloody stool
- Never feeling like you've completely emptied yourself
- Weight loss without explanation
- Fatigue and extreme weakness
- Constant discomfort in your abdomen
- Sudden and persistent change in bowel habits
If you've noticed any of these changes, you should contact your doctor right away. They will issue some diagnostic tests to determine the cause.
5 Benefits of Colorectal Screening Tests
Before you ever have symptoms, doctors will recommend screening tests to find any early signs of colorectal issues. It is important to understand the distinction between screenings and diagnostic tests. Screenings are exams to check for issues without symptoms, while diagnostic tests check your health after symptoms arise.
There are many benefits to complying with your doctor's orders for screening tests or seeking them on your own regularly. Below are the five top benefits of colorectal screenings.
1. There are Many Different Options
You might worry about colorectal screenings because you've heard some bad stories about one type of exam. For example, many people dread the infamous colonoscopy. However, colonoscopies are usually done while sedated, so you won't need to experience discomfort during the test.
You might not always be able to avoid a specific test depending on your circumstances, but for many patients, there are a lot of options to keep up with screenings. Often, doctors recommend pairing one test with another to increase accuracy.
These tests include fecal tests, visual tests, and even blood tests.
2. Find Potential Issues Before the Symptoms
The best thing about screenings is that they happen before you have symptoms. While many doctor visits happen because of existing problems, screenings are stress-free with much less worry about results.
Colorectal cancer is infamous for being fatal if left alone, and yet it is highly treatable when caught early. Most people who develop colorectal cancer survive and fully recover because they were regularly screened and caught their disease early.
When you consent to colorectal screening, remember that you are doing your part in increasing your chances of a long healthy life. Additionally, you could catch your disease before you ever experience symptoms. You can catch and treat your cancer early without ever having experienced the negative health effects.
3. They Identify Colon Polyps
Colorectal screenings are mainly focused on identifying pre-cancerous polyps. If you are regularly screened, your doctor can identify polyps early before they grow and start to cause symptoms.
Despite popular belief, polyps are not the only signs of cancer. Many other lifestyle choices or diseases can cause polyps to form. This means that your doctor might be able to diagnose you with other diseases that aren't necessarily colorectal cancer.
Foods that are proven to cause colon polyps include processed meats such as lunch meat, sausage, hot dogs. Other foods include red meat and fatty, fried foods. Your doctor will ask you about your diet and advise that you change your eating habits.
Inflammatory diseases that affect the colon, including Crohn's disease, could also be a cause of polyps. Some women who have ovarian cancer can also develop polyps in their colorectal area.
Allowing your doctor to perform screenings means they might find polyps and run further tests to find the cause.
4. They Identify Occult Blood
Similar to identifying polyps, colorectal screenings can identify occult blood. If you take fecal exams, a screening will be able to find traces of blood. Occult blood is a sign of colorectal cancer, but can also be a sign of many other health conditions.
Other diseases or damage to your colon can cause your stool to have occult blood. These include:
- Crohn's disease
- Ulcers and fissures
- Ulcerative colitis
- Diverticular diseases
If your doctor sees occult blood in your results, they may request you undergo further tests to find the cause.
5. Start Treatment Early
Undergoing colorectal screenings may uncover undesired results, but you shouldn't lose hope. Early detection of colorectal issues allows your doctor to start treatment early and dramatically increase your chances of full recovery.
Early treatment means you'll likely have less intensive treatment. You'll be able to undergo smaller amounts of treatment for less time and get back to your life.
Lab Tests for Colorectal Cancer
One screening for colorectal cancer is a Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT). This test requires no bowel prep or change in diet or medications. You can perform it at home, and it's also fairly inexpensive.
The FIT is similar to the guiac-based fecal occult blood test, which tests for otherwise untraceable blood in the stool. You'll also not need to prep beforehand, and the test can be done at home. You will have to change your diet and medications, however.
Stool DNA tests are also widely available. These are easy to complete at home with no pre-test changes and no prep. These tests are fairly new, however, and might not be covered by insurance.
The ColoVantage® (Methylated Septin 9) is a blood test that requires no patient preparation and detects circulating methylated DNA from the SEPT9 gene, which is a marker associated with colorectal cancer.
Some more invasive tests are required less often but might include sedation and require pre-test prep and diet changes. These tests include colonoscopies, flexible sigmoidoscopies, and CT colonography.
What is the survival rate of colorectal cancer?
If you are diagnosed with localized colorectal cancer, your chances of survival are 91%. If cancer has spread, your chances decrease to 72%. If the cancer has been in your body for 5 years, your chances are about 63%.
What are the signs of late-stage colon cancer?
Late-stage colon cancer, stage 3 and stage 4, are characterized by blood in the stool, constipation, and diarrhea. You can also experience fatigue, long and thin stools, pain and bloating, nausea and vomiting, and weight loss. If cancer has spread, it most commonly causes symptoms related to your lungs, liver, and abdomen.
When should I get checked for colon cancer?
Both women and men should start getting colorectal screenings at the age of 50 unless they have risk factors. If they have risk factors, their doctors will recommend earlier and more frequent screenings. The American Cancer Society now recommends starting at 45.
Benefits of Colorectal Lab Testing with Ulta Lab Tests
Ulta Lab Tests offers tests that are highly accurate and reliable so you can take control of your health by making informed decisions. Our tests are secure, include confidential results, are available without insurance or referrals, and are very affordable. They also come with a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
Order your colorectal cancer screening test today and your results will be provided to you securely and confidentially online in 24 to 48 hours for most tests. Take charge of your health and track your progress with Ulta Lab Tests!