The earlier the better: Colon cancer screenings

23 February 2023

With multiple testing options available, you are more empowered than ever to catch and prevent life-threatening diseases like colon cancer. Learn how to take proactive steps to keep your gut healthy.

With so many testing options available, patients today are more empowered than ever to catch and prevent life-threatening diseases like colon cancer. These routine screenings help us stay healthy and identifying conditions, earlier. 

As we get older, our bodies change and become more susceptible to cancers. Over time, our cells begin to deteriorate and acquire more errors. Luckily, the world of screening and diagnostic testing is vast and full of preventative measures to help us detect or even avoid chronic health problems as we age. One of the deadliest problems that can emerge is colorectal cancer. Currently, it is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in adults.

But not all is grim. We’ve been cutting the numbers down over time. For example, total annual deaths from colorectal cancer in 2019 were down nearly 56% from where they were in 1970. And a large part of this is due to cancer screening and early detection.

Of course, we aren’t anywhere near done. That’s because:

  • Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer death among people under 50 in the United States, with rates of new diagnoses still climbing in this age group
  • Each year, an estimated 151,000 U.S. adults will be diagnosed with colon cancer
  • It is estimated that nearly a third of these cases will result in death

Early detection is key for markers of any disease, and colon cancer is no exception. It can be a very aggressive form of cancer, so detecting it early gets you ahead of the curve.

What is colon cancer and how is it different than other diseases?

Simply put, colon cancer is defined as any cancer of the colon or rectum, located at the end of the digestive tract. Sometimes the term is used interchangeably with “colorectal cancer.”

Most colon cancers first show up as abnormal growths (called “polyps”) in the colon. There is no guarantee these polyps will turn cancerous on any timetable. They can lay dormant for years before mutating. However, if left unchecked, the polyps can become malignant and metastasize, or spread. Because your gut is so connected to—and central to—other parts of your body, colon cancer can become very aggressive and spread rapidly.

What are some ways to screen for colon cancer and which one is the most accurate?

Regular screening can detect precancerous polyps, and your physician or another specialist will be able to proactively remove them to prevent cancer before it starts. If one or more has already turned cancerous, early screening still puts you in a good position to begin treatment early. Screening options vary based on your family and medical history for colon cancer.

  1. Colonoscopy: The precancerous polyps can be easily detected with an invasive procedure known as a colonoscopy. A physician sends a snake-like camera into your colon and scopes out any and all abnormalities within. It is the most-common method of screening for colon cancer, . Colonoscopies are usually performed every 10 years based on your family and medical history.
  2. FIT Test: A FIT (fecal immunochemical test) is a screening tool designed to catch any bleeding in your digestive tract. It requires no preparation or thick liquid drinks. Typically, you will be supplied with a kit to use at home. All you have to do is follow instructions provided with the kit, provide a stool sample, and then either mail or return it to your physician, healthcare practitioner or lab. A FIT test will indicate whether or not further testing, like a colonoscopy, is necessary. This test is recommended on a yearly basis for people over 45 who are at average risk for colon cancer.

A positive FIT result may lead to a negative colonoscopy result. But, the FIT screening will help keep you ahead of the curve when it comes to colon cancer.

It really is all about “the earlier, the better.” As we learn more and more every day about aggressive forms of cancer like colorectal or other bowel cancers, we’re increasing our abilities to be vigilant when it comes to detecting them before they can get out of hand.

Bottom line: Catching colon cancer early gives you a survival chance of 91%.

Who needs colon cancer screening?

Whether or not you should be screened or tested for colon cancer is determined by several factors. The most undeniable factor is age. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) suggests adults between the ages of 45 and 75 be screened regularly for colorectal cancer. To date, millions of U.S. adults are not getting screened when they should be. They are missing the chance to prevent colorectal cancer or detect it early enough to increase chances of survival. Nearly a third of all detected cases occur in this early stage. That number can be drastically increased if more and more patients regularly get screened.

Other risk factors for the disease include family history, other bowel diseases, and lifestyle habits. Inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, put a patient at greater risk for developing colon cancer. If you suffer from these conditions and disorders—or if you are unsure about your family history—consult your physician and start having these conversations proactively.

Good (or better) lifestyle habits can have a tremendous impact on how our bodies develop and handle diseases like colon cancer. Simply put, the better your general health is, the better your body is at defending itself against chronic diseases. Specifically, the following lifestyle habits have been shown to have potential positive effects on avoiding or slowing the spread of various cancers:

  1. Engaging in regular, daily physical activity. Even a 15-30 minute walk every day can improve your overall quality of life.
  2. Consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables. These healthy foods are chock full of vitamins and nutrients, especially antioxidants
  3. Consuming a diet high in fiber and low in fat. Fiber helps move everything along in your colon, so a diet high in fiber can lower the amount of time that something is in your body, giving it less of a chance to stick around and do damage. Because fat makes inflammation worse, a diet high in fat can slow down our bodies trying to rid themselves of toxic or dangerous elements.
  4. Consuming little to no alcohol or tobacco. As we know, these recreational activities actually help foreign invaders out by lowering or hindering our immune responses.
  5. Maintaining a healthy weight. Everybody (and every body) is different, but you and your physician know where your healthy weight should be. Ensuring you remain at or around that weight helps your body out in numerous ways, and one of the most vital ones is disease prevention and maintenance.

Generally speaking, these habits are not difficult and will have thoroughly positive effects on other aspects of your lifestyle as well. Any and all of these lifestyle habits can be grouped into a general wellness plan.

Ready to get a colon cancer screening?

Our FIT kits are available to purchase or may be available for free with insurance through your physician or healthcare practitioner. You can ask your doctor for the trusted Labcorp OnDemand colon cancer FIT kit. 

Learn more about all the routine screenings that you need, include colon cancer, based on your age and gender.