Testing for Colorectal Cancer
How do we get tested for colorectal cancer?
Currently, there are four main types of screening for colon cancer. There is no single “best test” for elders or young adults. Each type has advantages and disadvantages. It is worth a conversation with your doctor to discuss the screening process, and the best type for you or elderly parents.
* Stool tests. Several types of tests can detect blood or other substances in the stool (fecal matter). These tests can be regularly performed at home.
* Flexible sigmoidoscopy. In this test, the doctor uses a small, thin, flexible tube to view the lower third of the colon.
* Virtual colonoscopy. This newer, less-invasive test uses x-rays to allow the doctor to see images of the colon. Patients are advised to get this screening every five years.
* Colonoscopy. This is the test that provides the best view of the whole colon. The doctor uses a longer, flexible, lighted tube to inspect the entire colon. During the procedure, the doctor can remove some early-stage cancers, as well as polyps that could become cancerous. It’s recommended once every 10 years, or more often if anything unusual is found.
If any of these tests reveal an abnormality, a colonoscopy will most likely be recommended to further investigate. Most insurance plans, and Medicare, will cover screening. Review your health insurance plan to learn the specifics of what is covered and what you might have to pay.
What to expect from your colonoscopy?
The procedure has a worse reputation than it deserves. Most patients are given the option of sedation during their colonoscopy, so they aren’t even aware of what’s going on. But if chosen, you will need someone to drive you home when the process is completed.
For most older adults, the most challenging part of a colonoscopy is bowel preparation. To totally empty your colon, you’ll be on a restricted diet for a day or two, and then you’ll need to drink a large amount of a laxative substance over the course of hours (you will want to be at home for that!). It’s important to follow the doctor’s instructions carefully so your colon will be totally clean. Failure to follow the diet as instructed could mean you have to do the whole thing over again.
The biggest benefit of a colonoscopy is that it will actually help prevent cancer. The doctor will be able to remove any noticeable polyps, and generate a pathology report. If the polyps are precancerous, your doctor will probably recommend you have your next colonoscopy sooner. If the doctor finds cancer, treatment can begin promptly.