When it comes to colorectal cancer, which is the third most common cancer in both men and women in the US, we all want to make sure that every person is receiving the attention and proper health care that is best for their individual circumstances. Thankfully, there are many options available to test and screen for the disease, along with different treatment options. But are all of these tests created equal? Not really. Since the recommendations for colonoscopies were recently changed, with the recommended age to begin testing being lowered from 50 to 45, it’s becoming more important to have this conversation. Even more concerning and further illustrating the need for effective testing, research is also showing that there’s a sharp rise in colorectal cancer in younger adults.

What Tests Are Available?

There are a number of ways to screen for colorectal cancer, and here at Asheville Gastroenterology Associates, we recommend a colonoscopy as your best bet to catch colorectal cancer early on, while also continuing to monitor any abnormalities to prevent the disease from spreading. Similar testing, including sigmoidoscopy, are also offered at our office, although that test is not as effective for testing in women as it is for men.

You may have heard of at-home tests that have become available, which sound like a convenient option, although the results of these tests aren’t on par with other physical tests. These tests include a Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) and a Stool DNA Test (FIT-DNA). Both tests are conducted using a stool sample collected at home and sent off for testing. The stool samples are checked for DNA biomarkers, blood, and certain proteins. If the stool tests indicate a presence of blood or abnormalities, you will need to see your gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy. This referral causes the colonoscopy to be coded as diagnostic rather than screening; which affects how insurance covers the procedure. Screening colonoscopies are normally covered at 100% by most insurance companies, but a diagnostic colonoscopy is subject to standard deductibles.

These simple tests do show some success in reducing colorectal cancer deaths, but their success rates do not match regular colonoscopies. They are more likely to find cancerous polyps than precancerous ones, which is a huge benefit to a colonoscopy.  They’re also more likely to indicate false positives and need to be performed much more often, which might not make them cost-effective.

What Is My Best Course Of Action?

If you haven’t begun regular screening tests for colorectal cancer and aren’t sure when to start and what your game plan should be, book an appointment with our team so we can assess your risk factors for the disease and determine what the best plans are for screening and treatment. One of the biggest indicators of the need for early testing is if you have a family or personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps. Additional risks include a poor diet low in fruits and veggies or high in red and processed meats, drinking or smoking, being overweight, or not maintaining a physical fitness routine. You should always track any changes in your digestive system and talk to your doctor about them. Even slight changes in bowel movements or a presence of blood in your stool can indicate a need for an exam.

If you have any questions about colorectal cancer or how you can prevent it, come talk to our team today and we will help you understand and strive toward proper digestive health.