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What’s the right colorectal cancer screening option for you?

Colorectal cancer is a cancer of the lower digestive system, which includes the colon and the rectum. If you feel like you are hearing a lot about this topic lately, it’s because March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. The goal is to increase awareness and encourage people 45 and over to get screened. And that doesn’t just mean a colonoscopy.

Did you know that there’s more than one option for a colorectal cancer screening? That’s only if you don’t have bowel issues and are of average risk.

A colonoscopy allows your doctor to check for polyps and other issues inside the rectum and colon, and, if necessary, remove them.

“A polyp is a small, wartlike growth that initially may even be asymptomatic,” says Dr. Johanna Chan.

Over time, those polyps may form into cancer, says Dr. Chan, a Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist.

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“If we’re able to detect the colon polyps at a small and early stage, and resect them completely, we can actually prevent colon cancer from developing in the first place.”

Bowel prep for a colonoscopy can be difficult for some. Other tests may be a better option.

“And for some patients who might otherwise not undergo any screening, there certainly are alternatives, including noninvasive stool testing, certain imaging modalities, like CT-based testing.”

The most important colorectal cancer screening is the one that you do.

“Speak with your own provider and your own physician with an appropriate family history, symptom history, and have your team help you pick the right screening modality.”

Why millennials should know colon cancer symptoms

More younger adults are being diagnosed with colon cancer — also known as colorectal cancer — and at more advanced stages of the disease, says the American Cancer Society. It’s a trend experts have seen over the last decade.

Colon cancer symptoms usually don’t appear in early stages of the disease and when they do, they are often at an advanced stage. Dr. Chan says it’s important to recognize colon cancer symptoms and to seek medical attention if you experience them.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society recommend patients of average risk start screening for colorectal cancer at age 45.

“Colon cancer is an incredibly common cancer, routinely one of the top five causes of cancer annually. And really anyone is at risk, at any age,” says Dr. Chan.

She says that age is more often under 55.

“We are seeing younger patients present with colon cancer. And unfortunately, they also tend to present at a more advanced stage,” says Dr. Chan.

Ongoing stomach discomfort and unexplained weight loss can be colon cancer symptoms.

“In fact, a lot of the warning symptoms such as rectal bleeding, anemia, change in bowel habits, these are very common symptoms that happen across all ranges of age groups,” Dr. Chan says.

Most young healthy patients with rectal bleeding won’t have colon cancer.

“It’s still on the possible list of diagnoses. And it’s really important that young patients seek care for any of these symptoms that occur,” says Dr. Chan.

Many of the colon cancer symptoms may be symptoms of other health issues so it recommended to talk with your health care team to find out the cause of the problem

Alaska Native, American Indian and African Americans have a greater risk of colon cancer than people of other races, says the American Cancer Society.

Factors that may increase your risk of colon cancer include family history, bowel disease, diabetes, obesity or environmental exposures, including smoking or heavy alcohol use.

Dr. Chan says certain specific factors such as family history may require a more individualized approach for colorectal cancer screening. She encourages patients to talk to their health care team to make sure they are individualizing recommendations for them.

For this paid feature, Tucson Medical Center chooses topics of stories produced by professional journalists at the Mayo Clinic.

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