Colon Cancer Awareness Month: What to Know about Getting Tested

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, and the perfect time to think about colon health.

Unfortunately, less than half of people aged 50 and older get tested for colon cancer. But early detection can save lives. Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in the US, yet it has a 90 percent cure rate when detected early, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

“We say the best screening is the one that actually gets done,” says Dr. Judy Yee, professor and vice chair of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at University of California, San Francisco.

CT Colonography (CTC) or “virtual colonoscopy” — a less invasive, safe and sedation-free alternative to the colonoscopy — is increasing colorectal screening rates. CTC uses high-tech, low-dose X-rays to produce moving images of the colon, which doctors examine to detect colorectal cancer and precancerous polyps.

If you’re interested in avoiding a colonoscopy, but want to get the screening needed to verify your colorectal health, consider the following about CTC, an ACS recommended screening test:

• Comprehensiveness: The exam can detect abnormalities outside of the colon, including early-stage cancers in the liver, kidney and lungs, and can pinpoint potentially dangerous conditions, like aneurysms. In this way, it serves as two or even more detection tests in one.

• Accuracy: CTC is just as accurate as a colonoscopy for detecting clinically significant polyps and cancers; however, you don’t have to undergo sedation. There’s no need to take time off work or have someone drive you from the hospital.

• Affordability: This exam costs a fraction of the price of a standard colonoscopy and is covered by several major insurers. Your insurance company can verify whether CTC is covered under your plan.

• Non-Invasive: While a colonoscopy is the standard procedure, there is a small risk of serious complications associated with the test. However, CTC is non-invasive, as no needles or scopes enter the body. Only a small tube is placed in the bottom of the colon to help distend the colon for viewing.

• Improved Screening Rates: Availability of CTC screening significantly boosts colorectal cancer screening rates, according to studies at National Military Medical Centers in Bethesda, MD, and San Diego.

The US Preventive Services Task Force recently released draft recommendations naming CTC as an “alternative screening test,” and Medicare is currently reviewing coverage of this test in order to provide seniors with a lifesaving alternative.

Bottom line: not enough people are getting screened for colon cancer. Whatever screening alternative you prefer, make sure you schedule this vital appointment and encourage loved ones to do the same.


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