Testing for colon cancer may detect it without colonoscopy

Dr. Morris Beebe III
(Photo from Baptist Health)

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths (after lung cancer) even though effective, inexpensive, non-invasive screening options have been developed, says a Corbin gastroenterologist.

When it comes to colorectal cancer screening, patients are often embarrassed or worried about potentially painful procedures, Dr. Morris Beebe III writes in a Lexington Herald-Leader column.

Two simple screening options can be done in the privacy of a patient’s own home: fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) and fecal immunochemical testing (FIT). Each test requires only an “at home” kit, collecting samples from several bowel movements.

“It’s all very private,” Beebe notes.

FOBT requires minor changes to a patient’s diet, such as avoiding red meat right before the test; FIT does not.

“The idea behind these tests is to see if there are small amounts of blood hidden in the stool, suggesting pre-cancerous polyps or cancerous growths,” he says.

If results show hidden blood, a follow-up colonoscopy can be used for diagnosis and treatment. Colonoscopy is widely recommended as one of the most effective screening tests, Beebe says, reducing the odds of colorectal cancer deaths by as much as 60 to 70 percent. Doctors can also remove any abnormalities that are found during the same procedure.

Doctors perform a colonoscopy by inserting a scope, a flexible tube with a camera, into the rectum and threading it through the length of the colon. Air is pumped into the colon to make viewing easier. The patient is given either general anesthesia or sedation, so the procedure is much less unpleasant than the description suggests, Beebe notes.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend regular colorectal cancer screenings at age 50.

“These screenings can save lives by detecting cancer at a treatable stage or even preventing it in some cases,” Beebe adds.

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