Colorectal cancer screening & prevention

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, October 28, 2020

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Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer (a cancer of the colon or rectum) is the third most common cancer diagnosed in men and women in the United States and the second cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Louisiana has the country’s fourth-highest death rate of colon cancer for a five-year average. The good news is that colorectal cancer is preventable if the correct steps are taken.

Multiple tests are available to screen for colon and rectal cancer. Some can be taken at home, while others, such as colonoscopies, need to be done by your doctor.

What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a safe, effective procedure that visually examines the lining of the colon and rectum using a long, flexible, tubular instrument attached to a camera and video monitor. It is used to diagnose colon and rectal problems, perform biopsies and remove colorectal polyps. The procedure usually takes less than an hour. Patients are typically sedated for this procedure, so you will be asleep and comfortable during the colonoscopy.

We know that colon polyps, if not removed, can turn into cancer. The benefit of a colonoscopy as a screening tool is that we can remove these polyps that typically will not be causing any symptoms, before they progress to colon cancer, without abdominal surgery. Many other disorders of the colon may also be identified, including diverticular and inflammatory bowel disease.

In general, those at average risk of colorectal cancer should receive their first screening at 50, but if you have family history or concerning symptoms, your doctor may recommend a screening before age 50. If no benign tumor or cancer is found, and no risk factors are present, doctors recommend scheduling this procedure every 10 years, or every five years if you have a history of polyps or a family history of colon cancer. A colonoscopy might also be recommended at any time if you have a change in bowel habits or bleeding.

Other screening options

A simple cancer detection test known as a fecal immunochemical test (or FIT Test) can be distributed via your primary care provider and completed at home by mailing in a stool sample. These at-home tests can help find colon cancer at an early stage when it can be treated, even before any signs or symptoms develop. If a patient receives a positive test result, further evaluation is necessary, and the American Cancer Society recommends follow-up with a colonoscopy.

Another at-home cancer detection test for colorectal cancers, Cologuard, identifies altered DNA and/or blood in stool, which are associated with the possibility of colon cancer or precancer. Cologuard is covered by Medicare every three years for average risk patients between the ages of 50-85 and is recommended every three years by the American Cancer Society. A positive result may indicate the presence of colorectal cancer or advanced adenoma and should be followed by diagnostic colonoscopy.


Dr. Kevin Cowley is board-certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology. To schedule an appointment with him at Ochsner Health Center – River Parishes (502 Rue da Sante, LaPlace, suite 308), call 985-652-3500.

Dr. Becky Hollibaugh prides herself on incorporating emotional, social and spiritual needs within her practice in addition to physical needs. To schedule an appointment with her at Ochsner Health Center – LaPlace Medical (735 West Fifth Street, LaPlace).