3 Factors That Indicate It's Time For A Colorectal Cancer Screening

Michelle Hopkins

Colorectal cancer is an umbrella term for cancers that affect the colon and rectum, but colon cancer is the name that's more often used when referring to cancers in these areas of the body. Both rectal and colon cancer are usually treatable in their early stages, and screenings are often effective in catching these cancers before they grow and spread to other parts of the body and become more difficult to treat.

Different tests can be done to check the health of both the colon and rectum. A flexible sigmoidoscopy exam involves the insertion of a thin, flexible tube with a light on its end to check for any growths or other abnormalities in the rectum and lower part of the colon. To go further up into the colon to check for polyps and other suspicious growths that could indicate colon cancer, the doctor can perform a colonoscopy by inserting a longer tube into the colon while you're under general anesthesia. 

1. Your Age

If you are at average risk and have reached the age of 45, some studies suggest that you get a colorectal cancer screening. Colonoscopies should usually be repeated every 10 years through age 75, and it's generally best to get a flexible sigmoidoscopy exam every five years. However, if you have a family history of rectal or colon cancer or have a condition like Crohn's disease, which is known to increase colon cancer risks, you'll likely be advised by your doctor to start your screenings sooner.

2. Unusual Bleeding

Blood that you see from your rectum or mixed in with your stool could be caused by hemorrhoids or other benign conditions, but colorectal cancer shouldn't be ruled out automatically. Bright red blood usually means that the rectum or anus is bleeding. If you notice darker-colored blood that's mixed in with your stool, you could be bleeding somewhere higher up in the digestive tract because of colon cancer or a less-serious problem, such as an ulcer.

3. Other Worrisome Symptoms

In its early stages, colorectal cancer often doesn't cause symptoms, so you might not even know that you have the condition unless you get tested. Symptoms often don't appear until the cancer is in a more advanced stage, but colorectal cancer may still be treatable in these phases. In addition to unusual bleeding from this area, you should talk to your doctor to find out if you should get a colorectal cancer screening if you notice signs like:

  • A prolonged change in bowel habits
  • An unusual stool appearance
  • A persistent bloated feeling
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Constant fatigue

Colorectal cancer screenings have helped save many people's lives, and you can enjoy better health for more years if you schedule these tests when they're due. A doctor who specializes in colorectal cancer testing and treatments can tell you more about these screenings.