Early detection of colon issues saves lives
Editor's Note: The following column is an interactive question-and-answer feature appearing the first Wednesday of each month. Readers are encouraged to send health-related questions that will be answered by a local medical professional to email@example.com. Today's question is being answered by David Meir, BSN, RN, director of cardiac and oncology services.
Q. "I am 45 years old and in good health but with a family history of colon cancer. I know 50 is the magical age for a colonoscopy, but is there a less invasive screening technique in the meantime?" -- Timothy C., Alliance
A. Let me start by commending you for your great question. It is never too early to think about colorectal health as an adult. The simple answer to your question is yes, there is a non-invasive screening test available. The test is called a fecal immunochemical test (FIT), and it is something that can be done in the privacy of your home and only takes a few minutes. The sample is collected by the individual, then returned in person or mailed to the lab for processing. All positive results are shared with the individual and their physician.
Keep in mind, the FIT test is not a replacement for a colonoscopy, rather, it is an additional tool to make an early discovery to a potential problem such as cancer.
Before I continue about the FIT test, I want to provide some background on colon cancer and why it is important to have routine screenings that should now include the FIT test. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), colorectal cancer is the third most common invasive cancer and second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.
Generally speaking, almost 90 percent of colorectal cancers occur in adults age 50 or older. That statistic is a bit misleading if there is a familial history of colorectal cancer. According to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), heredity non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), are inherited colorectal cancers that often lead to cancer in early to mid-40s when left untreated.
For those of us who fall into the category of no family history of colorectal cancer, we should not have a false sense of security if our age is under 50. There are many risk factors that we can control that often lead to colorectal cancer and other forms of cancer at an age that is much younger than expected. An increased rate of cancer diagnosis is directly attributed to a sedentary lifestyle, an unhealthy weight and waist size, smoking, alcohol consumption greater than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men, red meat consumption, and a diet low in fruits, vegetables and fiber.
For men and women who are of low or normal risk between the ages of 50 to 75, a colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years. Two alternatives to a colonoscopy are a sigmoidoscopy (which views only part of the colon), and a virtual colonoscopy that is conducted by a CT scanner; both are recommended every five years. While a colonoscopy is the only way to retrieve precancerous or cancerous polyps, all three methods require the use of a bowel prep and should be discussed with your doctor as to which option is best.
The FIT test can play an integral part in the early detection of colorectal cancer and does not require the bowel prep process that is required with a colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, and virtual colonoscopy. Early detection and treatment are the keys to survival. Waiting until there are noticeable bowel symptoms before seeking medical advice often means that a cancer diagnosis will occur as a late-stage diagnosis with a very low survival rate. Colorectal cancer that remains local has a 90 percent five-year survival rate. The survival rate, however, decreases to around 70 percent when it has spread to regional lymph nodes, while late detection that has spread to distant organs, such as the liver or lungs, carries a very low survival rate of 10 percent.
Alliance Community Hospital, an accredited Commission on Cancer hospital, is the primary sponsor of the "Steppin' Out for Hospice 5K Run//Walk" on Aug. 27. We will have an inflatable colon provided by the Tina Kiser Cancer Concern Coalition and will be passing out 200 FIT cards to the community at no cost to participants as a way to promote colon health and early cancer detection. In addition to the inflatable colon and FIT cards, several health care professionals will be on hand to answer any questions or concerns that you may have.
I hope that I have answered your question and provided you with the necessary information to remain healthy and to seek annual checkups that should include the FIT test with your physician.