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Don’t Delay Colorectal Cancer Screening
General Wellness

Don’t Delay Colorectal Cancer Screening

By Your Health Staff
Posted: March 13, 2024

Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. (not counting skin cancer), and 1 in 23 men and 1 in 26 women will be diagnosed with the disease during their lifetime. By undergoing colorectal cancer screening as recommended, you can be diagnosed in the earliest stages of the disease — and sometimes even have precancerous growths removed to prevent cancer from developing.

Recently updated guidelines now recommend that everyone at a normal risk for the disease have a colonoscopy every 10 years, starting at age 45 for most adults. These guidelines are particularly important for the African American community, which faces disproportionately high rates of diagnosis and death from colorectal cancer.

“Colorectal cancer screening through colonoscopies and other tests can result in early detection of colon cancer, which is one of the most effective ways of treating the disease,” says Dr. Paul Johnson, surgical oncologist with Methodist Cancer Institute. “People who are diagnosed with colon cancer are much more likely to survive when it is detected early.”

What Is a Colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a diagnostic procedure that allows a doctor to examine the inner lining of the colon and rectum. It involves a flexible, thin tube called a colonoscope equipped with a camera and light.

During the procedure, the colonoscope is gently inserted through the rectum into the colon, allowing the doctor to view the entire length of the colon. This detailed examination helps detect any abnormalities, such as polyps (abnormal growths) or tumors. Polyps, which are precancerous growths, can be removed during a colonoscopy to help prevent colorectal cancer from developing. 

Colonoscopies are important because colorectal cancer symptoms often don’t appear until the disease is in its later stages.

How Often Do You Need a Colonoscopy?

The frequency of colonoscopies depends on various factors, including individual risk factors, age and previous findings. While people at an average risk need a colonoscopy every 10 years, people with risk factors, such as a family history of colorectal cancer or a history of precancerous polyps, may need to start screenings earlier or have more frequent screenings.

It’s important to discuss personalized screening schedules with your primary care provider to determine when and how often you should be screened.

Colonoscopies aren’t just beneficial for the diagnosis of colorectal cancer. This same test can help diagnose other gastrointestinal conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, chronic diarrhea and unexplained bleeding in the digestive tract.


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Why Colonoscopies Are Crucial for the African American Community

The African American community faces the highest diagnosis and death rates for colorectal cancer among any ethnic group in the U.S. According to the American Cancer Society, African Americans are 20% more likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and have a death rate that is 40% higher than other groups.

Why? African Americans are more likely to have reduced access to healthcare, which can delay screening, diagnosis and treatment. This lack of access is often due to socioeconomic factors such as lack of health insurance or jobs that don’t allow time off for medical appointments.

Research has shown that when African American and white patients have the same access to colonoscopies, cancer-causing polyps and cancer are diagnosed at the same rate.

Access to preventive healthcare services, including screenings, is important for addressing colorectal cancer.

Other Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests

While colonoscopies are considered the gold standard for colorectal cancer diagnosis, other screenings options are available:

CT Colonography (Virtual Colonoscopy)

This CT scan provides detailed images of the colon without the need for a scope.

Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

Similar to a colonoscopy, this uses a scope to examine the lower portion of the colon.

Stool DNA Test

This test evaluates stool samples for genetic markers associated with colorectal cancer and detects blood in the stool.

Detecting Precancerous Polyps and Early Signs of Cancer

Colorectal screenings aim to detect precancerous polyps or signs of cancer at early stages when they are more treatable or even preventable. Removal of precancerous polyps during a colonoscopy can prevent them from progressing to cancer, while early detection of cancerous lesions allows for timely treatment and improved outcomes. Regular screenings based on individual risk factors and guidelines are important for effective colorectal cancer prevention and detection.

Decreasing the Risk of Colorectal Cancer

Regular colorectal cancer screenings can substantially reduce the risk of developing or dying from colorectal cancer, as can taking the following steps toward living a healthier life:

  • Eat a healthy diet: Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean sources of protein. Limit red and processed meats.
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices: Get adequate sleep, manage stress and drink plenty of water, as these factors also contribute to overall well-being and may indirectly impact cancer risk.
  • Know your family history: Understand your family’s history of colorectal cancer or polyps and discuss it with your healthcare provider to determine if you need earlier or more frequent screenings.
  • Limit alcohol consumption: Excessive alcohol intake is associated with a higher risk of colorectal cancer. Men should limit themselves to two drinks per day, and women should have no more than one.
  • Limit processed foods: Reduce the intake of processed meats, which might contain preservatives and additives linked to an increased cancer risk.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese increases the risk of colorectal cancer, so strive to maintain a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise.
  • Quit smoking: Avoid smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, as smoking is linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Regular exercise: Engage in regular physical activity, aiming for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activities, such as walking. Exercise can lower the risk of colorectal cancer.

“A healthy body is a strong body, and knowledge is power when it comes to reducing the risk of colon cancer,” Dr. Johnson says. “People who remain in good health throughout their lives and have a clear picture of their risk factors for developing the disease have a better chance of a good outcome if they get diagnosed.”

Get Screened

At Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, it’s our goal to help patients get better outcomes through early detection and screenings. Getting screened for colon cancer is an important step in maintaining your overall health. If you are 45 or older, or if you have a family history of colon cancer or other risk factors, it is important to talk to your doctor about getting screened. Early detection and treatment can increase the chances of survival and improve the outcome of colon cancer. 

Schedule an appointment with your Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare primary care physician today to discuss your screening options. Talk to your doctor about your risk of colorectal cancer.