Age 50 or Older? You May Be Due for Colorectal Cancer Screening
Merely being 50 years of age or older puts everyone at average risk of colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is the second largest cancer killer in the U.S., killing over 56,000 people each year. Unfortunately colorectal is a silent killer, often with no symptoms of illness until quite late, when it is much harder to treat. You are at increased risk of colorectal cancer if you have a personal or family history of:
- Benign colorectal polyps
- Colorectal cancer
- Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
- Uterine, ovarian, or inherited breast cancer
That’s the bad news. The good news is that if detected early through colorectal screening, it is a much more treatable disease. Some forms of screening can even be preventive, because precancerous polyps found during a colonoscopy can be removed during the procedure before they can become cancerous. Research has shown that up to 90% of colorectal cancers can be prevented by finding and removing these polyps.
The guidelines for screening for those at average risk begin at age 50. Screening options include the following:
- Colonoscopy every 10 years
- Fecal occult blood test yearly and flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
- Double contrast colon x-ray every 5-10 years
For those at increased risk, screening should be at age 40 or earlier and options include:
- Double contrast colon x-ray and flexible sigmoidoscopy
To help prevent colorectal cancer you can also do the following:
- Eat at least 5 servings of fruits or vegetables daily (optimally 8-10 servings)
- Eat whole grain foods high in fiber instead of processed foods such as white flour products
- Reduce animal fats, focusing on lean meats and lowfat or nonfat dairy products
- Use beans as a high protein, lowfat alternative to meat
- Be physically active, at least 30 minutes (and optimally 45-60 minutes) most days of the week
- Maintain normal weight
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Do not use tobacco
Due to federal health care reform, colorectal screening is now a covered preventive benefit, which means you can get the service for free, without paying any deductible or copay. This is true even if you have a high deductible health plan.
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