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Preventing Colon Cancer: What You Can Do

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The video explains fecal occult blood testing, which looks for blood in the stool that may signal the presence of a precancerous polyp. It also discusses flexible sigmoidoscopy, a procedure in which a flexible tube is inserted through the rectum, allowing the doctor to look for polyps in part of the colon.

Pignone tells WebMD that large, well-designed studies have shown that fecal occult blood testing can detect colon cancer and that this early detection reduces the death rate by about 33%. "And the people who were studied in those trials were over age 50, so we really believe that colon cancer screening is effective for adults over age 50, men and women."

Robert E. Schoen, MD, MPH, tells WebMD that everyone should be getting screened for colorectal cancer after age 50. Schoen is director of the Center for Families at Risk for Colorectal Cancer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School.

"For fecal occult blood testing, an annual test is recommended. For flexible sigmoidoscopy, it's every five years," says Schoen. "The American College of Gastroenterology recently came out saying that the preferred screening strategy is colonoscopy every 10 years."

Unfortunately, insurance companies do not always pay for these tests, Schoen says. "We're kind of in the same place we were with mammography 20 years ago; insurance wouldn't cover 'screening' tests but would cover [the same test] if you felt a lump in your breast. When you say you're just going for a preventive test, insurance companies don't like that."

But in 1998, Medicare for the first time said that it would cover annual fecal occult blood testing; sigmoidoscopy every five years; and, in certain high-risk situations, colonoscopy, a test that is similar to sigmoidoscopy but allows examination of the entire colon, Schoen says.

Vital Information:

 

  • Although new research is showing that a diet high in fiber does not protect against colon cancer, other components in the diet, such as lutein and folate, do show some protective effects.
  • Other research is has shown that taking aspirin or other similar medications can lower the risk of colon cancer.
  • Screening for colon cancer is recommended for everyone over 50 and involves one of several tests -- a fecal occult blood test, flexible sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy.
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