Lives are busy. It’s hard to find the time to make an appointment with your doctor, much less to schedule a routine screening like a colonoscopy. Still, with colon cancer being one of the deadliest cancers affecting the world today, patients are loathe to put off screening and testing. There are at-home tests that claim to screen for colon cancer, but is it wise to take them? Or, is a colonoscopy simply just a better screening tool that can “catch” more cases of colon cancer? Read on to learn the difference between at-home colon cancer tests and colonoscopy, and what choice you should make.
Quick Colon Cancer Facts
Colon cancer doesn’t just affect seniors or the older generation. In fact, in 2018 the American Cancer Society changed its colorectal cancer screening guidelines from age 50 to 45, because of a rash of cases of colon cancer in younger adults. Colon cancer does not present with many symptoms in its earlier stages. If you wait until you have colon cancer symptoms, such as a profound change in bowel habits, frequent abdominal cramping, or rectal bleeding, the cancer may be in its later stages, and the chances of survival drop dramatically. A proper colon cancer screening (such as colonoscopy) can help catch colorectal/colon cancer in its earliest stages. The very beginnings of colon cancer often appear as polyps, and a colonoscopy is the gold standard of testing to detect (and remove) precancerous or cancerous polyps.
While generally healthy adults without a family history of colon cancer or associated diseases are recommended to begin screening at age 45, certain risk factors may prompt earlier screenings. A personal history of diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or a family history of colon cancer may necessitate earlier screening. Other risk factors include being overweight or obese, heavy drinking, smoking, and red meat consumption. Each patient should check with their insurance as most policies still begin covering a screening colonoscopy at 50.
Different Methods of Colon Cancer Screening
While colonoscopy is the preferred method for colon cancer screening, there are other ways to test. The colonoscope can see the entire colon, and physicians can detect and remove cancerous or precancerous polyps, which are precursors to colon cancer. Another type of test is called CT colonography, which is a CT computer scan that can view the colon and rectum to detect for polyps. Doctors also sometimes use a fecal immunochemical test (FIT), which is a test that checks stool for blood related to polyps. The fourth method of testing is an at-home screening that emphasizes convenience for the patient. It is also a stool test that checks for microscopic amounts of blood.
Why Is Colonoscopy Preferred?
It’s not that at-home tests are bad–they are convenient and have caught early-stage cancer in some cases. However, researchers and physicians are much more concerned about the amount of cancer missed with at-home screenings. It’s estimated that 95 percent of colon-type cancers begin as polyps, which at-home screenings frequently fail to detect and obviously can not remove. Colonoscopy can do both in one procedure. Also, it’s estimated from a study that at-home screenings missed up to 7 percent of cancers when used correctly. Additionally, any positive result in the at-home screening is then referred to a gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy to confirm the diagnosis.
While the convenience of an at-home screening is enough to prevent you from having to take a day off work to make an appointment for a procedure, it’s simply not going to be enough to put your fears to rest. Also, if your insurance covers a “colon screening” you will use your benefit on the at-home test and will be responsible of any costs outlined by your individual policy. If you have significant risk factors, are concerned about colon cancer, or you are of screening age, colonoscopy is the best choice for a definitive answer – as well as a solution if you do have precancerous polyps.
If you need more information on how to set up an appointment for a colonoscopy or have questions about colon cancer or other types of screening, request an appointment with Dr. Sameer Islam today for excellence in patient care.