Colon Cancer Screenings Reduce Risk of Colon Cancer

Our board-certified gastrointestinal (GI) physicians and surgeons at University Hospitals are leaders in screening, diagnosing, managing and treating all types of colon polyps, colon cancer and other gastrointestinal conditions. With a team approach to care, we work closely with patients to provide treatment for immediate needs. We also work together to educate patients on how to reduce the risk of more serious issues such as colon cancer.

Colon Cancer Risk Factors

Patients with colon polyps are at a greater risk for colorectal cancer. But colon cancer can be prevented with regular screening and early treatment. Most people think they don’t need to be checked unless they have symptoms or family history. However, most colon polyps do not cause symptoms – even the larger ones. The only way to know if you do or do not have colon cancer is to undergo the recommended colonoscopy screening based on your personal and family history. It is also important to know the following key risk factors that will affect your colon health or screening schedule:

  • Having a genetic link or family history of colon cancer
  • Being obese or overweight
  • Smoking cigarettes and smokeless tobacco use
  • Having a diet high in animal fat and red meat
  • Having inflammatory bowel disease
  • Age
  • Being African American
  • Consuming alcohol
  • Lack of exercise
  • Lack of sleep

Being aware of your risk factors and managing those you can control will help lower your risk of colon cancer.

Preventing Colon Cancer with a Colonoscopy

Prevention is key reducing your risk of colon cancer, particularly removing polyps that are precursors to cancer during routine colonoscopies. In addition, we remind patients to be mindful about their digestive health by eating a diet high in fiber and low in animal fat and losing weight, if necessary. Avoiding tobacco products can reduce the risk of colon cancer significantly.

A proactive approach to lifestyle changes and remembering to schedule a colonoscopy can have a significant impact on your colon health, but also your overall health.

Colon Cancer Screening Guidelines

Colon cancer screening guidelines have changed as scientists learn more about populations at risk for the disease. Current guidelines recommend starting colonoscopies at age 45 for most adults. 

For those with a first-degree family member having been diagnosed with colon cancer or advanced, large polyps, colonoscopies should start at age 40. This is particularly important for people with parents or siblings who have had colon cancer. Colon cancer under the age of 40 is increasing in numbers, so it is important to be mindful of your digestive health. No matter what age, if you have abnormal symptoms such as unexplained rectal bleeding, talk with your GI doctor about colon cancer screening.

Offering the Latest Innovations in Colon Cancer Diagnostics

Though colonoscopy is the preferred colon cancer screening method in most cases, there are also other screening tests that are less invasive than a colonoscopy and are available at University Hospitals:

Cologuard is an at-home screening option that may be appropriate for some adults 45 and older at average risk for colon cancer. Cologuard uses advanced technology to check for both abnormal DNA and blood in your stool sample - either of which can be a sign of either pre-cancer or cancer. The test does not require any special preparation and comes with easy-to-follow collection and mail-back instructions. If results are positive, your doctor will refer you for a diagnostic colonoscopy. If negative, you and your doctor should discuss the type and frequency of colon cancer screenings appropriate for you going forward. Cologuard is covered by most insurance plans every three years.

Cologuard can be ordered through your doctor’s office or online but, in either case, a prescription is required.

The Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) is offered to patients to check for minute amounts of hidden blood in the stool. With this at-home test, patients are provided a container and send a sample to the lab for processing. This non-invasive test can determine if fecal blood is in the stool sample. If results are positive, a colonoscopy will be required to identify the source. It’s important to know there can be false positives with the FIT test. This test or other screening options should be done annually to check for colorectal cancer.

UH offers virtual colonoscopy as an alternative to traditional colonoscopy, which is done with an optical scope. Offered through the Department of Radiology, the biggest benefit of virtual colonoscopy is that the scan typically takes only 10 minutes to complete, with no sedation or recovery time, leaving patients free to resume their daily activities. Currently virtual colonoscopy is not covered by most insurance plans and patients should talk with their primary care physician or gastroenterologist to see if the virtual colonoscopy is right for them.

While these innovations in diagnostics are available to check for colon cancer indicators, one of the benefits to a colonoscopy is that polyps can be removed at the same time as a colonoscopy procedure. This is the preferred screening method and the only option with the ability to prevent colorectal cancer.

Comprehensive Treatment for Colon Health

Our fellowship trained, board-certified team is skilled in providing comprehensive care for both normal and complex conditions of the colon. Our extensive experience includes routine procedures such as colonoscopies, but also advanced procedures such as endoscopic submucosal dissection (ESD). This is an advanced endoscopic procedure used to remove gastrointestinal tumors that have not entered the muscle layer. Transanal endoscopic microsurgery excision (TEM) and transanal minimally invasive surgery (TAMIS) procedures can often remove large polyps without major surgery even if the tumor has entered the muscle layer.

If a patient is diagnosed with colon cancer, our multidisciplinary team approach provides an entire team for your care, including:

  • Colorectal surgeons
  • Gastroenterologists
  • Medical oncologists
  • Pathologists
  • Radiologists
  • Radiation oncologists

Together, they will determine the right individual path of colon cancer treatment, including possible surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and ongoing monitoring. After treatment for colon cancer, patients will continue follow-up colonoscopies for careful monitoring of colon health.