Colorectal Cancer Screening: A Life-Saving Choice for Women
Many consider it a man’s disease. Yet half of those diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year are women. And about half of those women will die from it. This cancer is highly curable if caught at an early stage. Even better, certain preventative measures can reduce risk from the disease in the first place.
“Ninety percent of colorectal cancer cases can be cured when found and treated at an early stage, so regular screenings are important,” said Riten Sheth, M.D., gastroenterologist on staff at Silver Cross Hospital.
Risk Increases with Age
The majority of colon cancer cases begin as small benign growths—called polyps—that can become cancerous over time. Polyps may appear in either the colon or the rectum, both of which are part of the large intestine.
Age is one of the biggest risk factors. More than 90% of cases occur in people older than age 50. In fact, after age 75, more women die of colorectal cancer than of breast cancer. Women also may be at increased risk if they have polyps, a family history of polyps or colorectal cancer, ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease.
Screening Should Start before Symptoms
Colorectal cancer is often symptom-less in its earliest and most curable stages. Screening helps detect polyps so they can be removed before turning cancerous. Dr. Sheth recommends regular screening for all women beginning at age 50. Those at high risk may need to start screening at an earlier age.
Symptoms of colorectal cancer may include:
- Any change in the usual pattern or frequency of bowel habits
- Diarrhea, constipation, or a feeling that your bowels have not emptied completely
- Blood in the stool that is either bright-red or very dark
- Stools that are narrower than usual
- Frequent gas pains, cramping, or bloating.
Depending on your age and risk factors, your physician may suggest certain screening tests as part of a regular check-up. One common test is a simple, annual fecal occult blood test (FOBT). This painless test requires stool samples that can be collected in the privacy of a woman's home.
Free Colon Cancer Screening Kits
During the month of March, Silver Cross Hospital is offering free colon cancer screening kits. This test detects the presence of blood in the stool, which is a warning sign for colorectal cancer. Many factors can interfere with the accuracy of this screening procedure; so follow-up testing is necessary to confirm positive results. Using a kit, a small sample of stool is collected at home and tested for blood in the Silver Cross Laboratory and results are mailed to patients. For more information or to receive a Colon Cancer screening kit, call 1-888-660-HEAL (4325) or click here.