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Over 50? Schedule Your Colon Cancer Screening

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Another highly recommended test is a sigmoidoscopy. Doctors use a sigmoidoscopy to look at the inside of the rectum for polyps projecting from the intestine. The procedure involves inserting a flexible, 2-foot long tube into the rectum and up to the colon. The tube allows doctors to see about half of the colon using an attached video camera. Experts advise people aged 50 and older to have one every five years.

Experts say that people at risk should have the entire colon examined using a colonoscopy every 10 years. A colonoscopy involves inserting a flexible, 4-foot long tube into the colon, allowing the doctor to see the entire colon and increasing the chances of spotting a cancerous growth.

In the CDC's two-year study, more than 63,000 people were asked if they ever had an FOBT, a flexible sigmoidoscopy, or a colonoscopy.

In 1999, about 40% of the respondents reported having an FOBT, compared with less than 20% in 1997. Another 43% reported having a sigmoidoscopy within the previous five years compared with about 30% in 1997.

Efforts are now under way to further increase awareness about colon cancer and screening. Earlier this month, the CDC and the Health Care Financing Administration, which oversees the Medicare program, launched a nationwide campaign to raise public awareness. Congress also designated March as "National Colorectal Awareness Month."

On the state level, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, and other states also have begun to raise public awareness by distributing surveys and offering free screening services to the uninsured.

Since 1999, the screening rates also have dramatically increased thanks in part to the public awareness campaigns of private organizations, such as the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance, says Rustgi, who serves a member of the Alliance's medical advisory board.

More about these efforts and the disease can be learned by visiting the CDC colon cancer web site at www.cdc.gov/cancer/screenforlife and the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance at www.ccalliance.org.

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