March 14, 2024

Why Colon Cancer Screening Is Crucial for Generating Positive Outcomes

Preventative Health
Blog Graphic for Why Colon Cancer Screening is Crucial for Generating Positive Outcomes

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths when numbers for men and women are combined. With that being the case, healthcare professionals actively promote colon cancer screening in order to detect cancer before it progresses to an impossible scenario.

Who should be screened—and at what age? Dr. Bill Kontny, surgeon at Fort HealthCare, provides important recommendations.

Screening Recommendations: Building a Timeline

It’s important to note that the guidelines have changed surrounding colon cancer screening, particularly in respect to colonoscopy—the “gold standard” of colon cancer detection. Previously, recommendations for individuals of average risk indicated an initial screening at age 50. That has since lowered to age 45, due to the increasing number of people who have been diagnosed with colon cancer at a younger age. Approximately 30% of the colon cancer patient population is under age 55. The “average risk” designation encompasses people who do not have a family history of colon cancer or polyp detection.

If a colonoscopy is normal, individuals do not need to repeat the screening for another 10 years. If one polyp is discovered, that timeline shifts to five years. And, if multiple polyps appear and are removed, the guidelines dictate another colonoscopy in three years’ time.

Understanding the Colonoscopy Process

The colonoscopy itself is quite simple and quick—no more than 90 minutes, including sedation. Many people have heard “horror stories” about the preparation required, but that process has also become more patient friendly in the past few years.

“You get right back to your normal activities by the next day. On the day of, you have to take it easy because you’ve had sedation. You can still do things at home. By the next day, you’re back driving, you’re going back to work. It’s a pretty smooth process,” assures Dr. Kontny. “There are small risks with the procedure, it’s not a zero-risk procedure. But, in the long-term regarding the risk of colon cancer, it’s definitely a benefit.”

If polyps are detected, they are removed during the colonoscopy procedure and sent off for testing. Results typically come back in three days. Dr. Kontny notes that at least 30% of people screened who did not have any history of colon cancer or polyps end up with polyps. “That’s an interesting stat I think people need to realize. But, we remove them and now we have taken action to prevent your risk of colon cancer.”

Early Detection Is Crucial

Despite being a very deadly cancer, a positive diagnosis does not equate to a death sentence. However, it’s crucial to find the cancer in its early stages in order to produce good outcomes.

“The good news is, even if we do find a cancer in a person who has an early stage I, stage II colon cancer, you typically have a 90% or better chance of complete recovery, survival, and cure. Seventy-one percent for stage III is still a good number, but when you get to stage IV, which is metastatic disease, hat rate goes down to 14%,” cautions Dr. Kontny. “The progression of the disease is the issue. We want to stop that progression as soon as we can in every person.”

Cologuard: Alternative Testing Option

While colonoscopy is the preferred method for colon cancer screening, alternative tests exist. One is Cologuard, which involves assessing DNA via a stool sample. While Dr. Kontny says this approach is better than doing nothing, he reinforces that it is not an equal replacement for colonoscopy. About 13% of negative Cologuard tests actually translate to a positive finding. False positives are also possible.

“I would recommend, if you’re definitely not going to do a colonoscopy for whatever reason, it’s definitely better to do a Cologuard test than to do nothing. It will pick up people who do have polyps and then we’ll do a colonoscopy on those people,” he states.