Earlier this week, the American Cancer Society blew up the Twittersphere (at least in GI / colon cancer circles) with their updated guidelines for colon and rectal cancer screening; the ACS now recommends that adults at average risk get screened beginning at age 45 instead of 50, as was previously recommended.
To increase the chances that people will adhere to the new recommendation, the ACS is asking physicians to offer patients a choice of screening options:
- Colonoscopy every ten years
- Computed tomography colonography (CTC) or "virtual colonoscopy" every five years
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years
- Multitarget stool DNA test every three years
- Take-home fecal immunochemical test once a year
- Take-home high-sensitivity guaiac fecal occult blood test once a year
If results for any of the screenings other than colonoscopy are positive, a colonoscopy is typically performed anyway. So why not get one in the first place?
The Gold Standard
According to the Colon Cancer Coalition (and most experts in the field), “Colonoscopy is considered the gold standard for detection of colon cancer.” Although it may be the most effective test, the ACS believes that any screening is better than none—thus the variety of options presented to patients.
Three Reasons Why
There are a variety of reasons to go for the gold. Here are our top three.
- It’s a one-stop shop. Screening for cancer is an important first step, but treating and preventing it are also essential. You should know that colonoscopy is the only way do all three in one procedure. Colonoscopy allows doctors to find and remove any precancerous growths (polyps), preventing cancer before it develops.
- We said it before, and we’ll say it again. Alternatives to colonoscopies can be effective in detecting colon cancer. But when any abnormalities are found, doctors usually recommend a colonoscopy.
- See you in ten years! If a colonoscopy doesn’t find polyps or cancer and you don’t have risk factors, your next test should be in ten years. Some of the other screens must be performed as frequently as once a year.
We Know It’s Not Tons of Fun
Yes, limiting your diet for a day or so and drinking a laxative prep are not at the top of everyone’s list of fun things to do, but consider this: in the United States, colon cancer is the third most common cancer and the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths. The good news is that it is typically slow-growing and predictable. Caught early when a tumor is limited to the colon, it is quite curable. While colonoscopies make take more effort on your part, they’re worth it.
The best thing about getting a colonoscopy? It just might save your life.