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Prevention & Screening for Colon Cancer

Improving the odds with prevention and screening.

According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women in the United States—but it doesn’t have to be.

Thanks to improvements in prevention, early detection and treatment, the odds of beating cancer are improving, and more than one million people in the U.S. today are survivors of colon or rectal cancer.

Our colorectal surgical team is here to help you improve your odds of preventing colorectal cancer and staying healthy through regular cancer screenings and proper treatment. The American Cancer Society recommends that people who have no identified risk factors (other than age) should begin regular screenings at age 50. If you have other risk factors, such as the ones listed below, you may need earlier and more frequent testing.

Who is at risk?
  • Both men and women can get colorectal or anal cancer
  • Colorectal cancer is most often found in people 50 and older
  • The risk for getting colorectal and anal cancer increases with age

Risk Factors for Anal Cancer

  • Anal warts – Infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes condyloma (warts), increases the chance of developing anal cancer

  • Anal sex – Persons who participate in anal sex are at an increased risk

  • Smoking – Harmful chemicals from smoking increase the risk of most cancers, including anal cancer

  • Immunosuppression – People with weakened immune systems, such as transplant patients who must take drugs to suppress their immune systems and patients with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection, are at higher risk

  • Chronic local inflammation – People with long-standing anal fistulas or open wounds are at a slightly higher risk

  • Pelvic radiation – People who have had pelvic radiation therapy for rectal, prostate, bladder or cervical cancer are at an increased risk  

Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer

  • Family history – People with a family history of colon and rectal polyps and/or cancer (in a parent, grandparent, sibling, child) are at increased risk

  • Personal history – History of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease), colon polyps or cancer of other origins (breast, ovarian, uterine) are at higher risk

  • Hereditary conditions – Conditions such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), Turret’s syndrome, Gardner's syndrome, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome and Cowden's syndrome are at higher risk

  • Increasing age – More than 90% of diagnoses occur in people over the age of 40

  • High animal fat, low-fiber diets – Diets low in fiber and high in animal fats increase risk

  • Smoking – Harmful chemicals from smoking increase the risk of most cancers, including anal cancer

  • Obesity and/or physical inactivity – A sedentary lifestyle and/or obesity may increase risk

How can you prevent colorectal cancer?
Although colorectal cancer may occur at any age, more than 90% of diagnoses occur in people over the age of 40. The best way to reduce your risk of developing colorectal cancer is through regular cancer screenings, which can detect polyps, early cancers and changes that may be treated before symptoms develop. We provide a variety of tests to screen for colorectal and anal cancer, including:  

  • Anal Pap Smear – During an anal Pap smear, cells from the outside of the anal canal are retrieved by gently scraping the lining of the anus to test for cancerous or precancerous conditions.

  • Barium Enema – A liquid called barium is placed in the rectum through a tube (similar to an enema), then X-rays are taken. The barium coats the inside wall of the colon, which allows tumors to be seen on the X-rays.

  • Colonoscopy, Standard – This procedure is similar to the flexible sigmoidoscopy except a longer scope is used to examine the entire length of the colon. Again, if we find any growths, they can be removed if they’re small enough or biopsies can be taken. You will usually be mildly sedated during this procedure.

  • Colonoscopy, Virtual – Less invasive than a standard colonoscopy, a virtual colonoscopy is performed in a radiology center and involves the same type of colon cleansing as a colonoscopy. A small flexible catheter is inserted in the rectum and air is gently pumped in to inflate the colon. You are then placed inside a CT (computerized tomography) scanner, which will take detailed “pictures,” similar to those seen during a standard colonoscopy. If a polyp is found or a biopsy is required, you will need a standard colonoscopy to have that done.

  • Digital Rectal Exam (DRE) – Your doctor will insert a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to feel for abnormal areas, which may indicate the presence of rectal tumors.

  • Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) – Also known as a stool test, this test can detect tiny amounts of blood that are invisible to the eye by placing small amounts of stool onto special test cards, which are then treated with a few drops of a special solution. A positive test means there is blood present, but it does not identify where the blood is from. At this point, you will need further tests to determine the source since there are many causes of fecal occult blood. Occasionally, fecal occult blood will not be detected in a person with cancer because the bleeding is intermittent.

  • Flexible Sigmoidoscopy – With this procedure, a flexible, narrow tube with a tiny built-in camera is inserted into the rectum to view the inner wall and lower part of your colon. If any growths are found, we will take biopsies or remove them if the size is small enough to allow for it.

  • Outpatient High-Resolution Anoscopy (HRA) This procedure allows the anal canal to be examined using a small, thin, round tube called an anoscope and a high-resolution magnifying instrument called a colposcope. A mild acidic liquid will be applied to the anal canal to assist the evaluation of abnormal tissue, such as anal dysplasia. If abnormal tissue is detected, we may take a biopsy for further testing. A digital rectal exam is also done during this procedure, but no bowel prep is needed prior to the examination, like a colonoscopy. It’s important to note that high-resolution anoscopy is also different from a colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy, in that neither of these procedures can adequately examine the anal canal for the problems being detected by HRA.
Our team will work with you to determine the best screening option and frequency of screening based on your family and personal medical history. The Division of Colorectal Surgery offers colonoscopy screening and surveillance and anal cancer screening/HPV clinics through Rochester Colon & Rectal Surgeons, P.C. Contact us today to schedule a screening appointment.
 
Other Ways to Prevent Colorectal Cancer
In addition to regular screenings, making the following lifestyle changes is another effective way to reduce your overall risk of developing colorectal cancer:
  • Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains which contain cancer-fighting vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants
  • Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all (limit the amount to no more than one drink a day for women and two for men)
  • Stop smoking
  • Increase your amount of exercise
  • Maintain a healthy weight
Learn more about the colonoscopy exam and how you can prevent colorectal cancer from developing.