When it comes to colon cancer, screening by way of a colonoscopy is what we hear most. It is the most publicized and talked about method of colon cancer screening, mainly due to the fact that it is the most efficient way to screen for colorectal cancer. However, there are additional methods of screening available, beyond a colonoscopy that you should be aware of.
Dr. Ari Nowain is a board-certified gastroenterologist and internist, who can perform a colonoscopy to screen for the disease and remove polyps but he can also educate you on alternatives for colon cancer screenings. He treats acute and chronic GI problems and also focuses heavily on prevention of diseases related to colon and esophageal cancer.
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among both men and women. Cancer of the rectum and colon is the second most common in the US — about 56,000 people die from this cancer annually. It can be a slow growing cancer that is very treatable if detected in the early stages. The American Cancer Society recommends that people have screening for colorectal cancer every five years starting at age 50. Overall, colon cancer screenings can reduce the risk of dying from the disease by 50%.
As it relates to colonoscopies, this screening method can, not only detect colon cancer, but also allow for removal of precancerous growths (called polyps) before they become cancerous. Although it is the “gold standard” for cancer screening in the colon, there are alternatives.
Many people don’t realize they have blood in their stool because blood is not coming out or visible during a bowel movement. Occult blood in the stool can be a sign of colon cancer. A fecal occult blood test will alert Dr. Nowain if something is wrong. This test will need to be performed every 1-2 years.
This test is very similar to a colonoscopy except it does not examine the entire length of the colon. It only examines the lower colon. It has been proven to reduce colon cancer deaths, but it does not examine the entirety of the bowel. Some bowel preparation is necessary for this procedure. A sigmoidoscopy should be performed every 5 years.
The patient receives a barium enema and a series of X-ray images are taken. This procedure requires similar bowel preparation to a colonoscopy. However, this procedure can miss small polyps, so it is recommended that you be screened more frequently. This procedure should be performed every 5 years.
A virtual colonoscopy is when a special X-ray machine is used to produce pictures of the colon and rectum. Sedation is not needed for this procedure, but bowel preparation is required. You should have a virtual colonoscopy every 5 years. If lesions are detected during a virtual colonoscopy, then it is recommended that patients have a standard colonoscopy to biopsy or remove the abnormality seen. Virtual colonoscopy is not as good as colonoscopy at detecting small lesions within the colon.
While a colonoscopy still remains the top choice in detecting and treating the early stages of colon cancer, there are alternatives. It is important to know your options because the ultimate goal is to BE SCREENED! Through regular screening, you can literally save your life.
Dr. Nowain is a double board certified Gastroenterologist in Beverly Hills with expertise in advanced diagnostic and therapeutic techniques for digestive disorders.
Contact Dr. Nowain today to discuss your colorectal cancer screening options and schedule your screening. We will be more than happy to help you. Call us today at (310) 657-4444.