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Screening Critical to Detect Colorectal Cancer

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The different screening methods each have some pluses and minuses, Gazelle tells WebMD. Although polyps and cancers can develop in any part of the colon, only two methods examine the entire colon: colonoscopy and the double-contrast barium enema (DCBE), he says. Although interest in colonoscopy has risen since Couric televised her own procedure, Gazelle says that a DCBE is also effective.

The old-fashioned method, a digital rectal examination, is inadequate, the Harvard researchers write, and sigmoidoscopy, which only covers a portion of the colon, is best in combination with the fecal occult blood test.

Although screening can prevent colon cancer, many insurers still won't pay for it, Gazelle says. But in 1997, the federal Health Care Financing Administration decided to cover screening for Medicare recipients. Some insurers have followed. A bill now in Congress, sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), could force other insurers to pay for screening.

Because the subject of colon cancer is considered distasteful, many doctors and patients don't bring it up, and as a result, too many people are not screened, Smith says.

"The main thing people need to understand is that this is an important health problem for both men and women," he says. "If your doctor has not mentioned it, you should initiate the discussion."

 

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