By Dr. Patricia Hayes, Medical Director—Department of Family Practice
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in both men and women. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 53,000 people will die this year in the United States from colorectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer often starts as abnormal tissue growth, or a polyp, within the lining of the colon or rectum. If left untreated some polyps can become cancerous. That is why prevention is so important. With regular screening, most polyps can be found and removed before developing into cancer. Screening can also find colorectal cancer early, when it is smaller and easier to treat.
It’s recommended that most people begin screenings at age 50, or earlier if your doctor determines that you are in a high risk category. Those risks factors can include: a personal or family history of polyps or colon cancer, being over the age of 50, and/or have ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
There are several colorectal cancer screening tests available to patients. The most well-known being the colonoscopy. It is a visual exam in which doctors use a flexible tube to look at the entire length of the colon and rectum. The instrument has a light and small video camera at the end and can be used to biopsy or remove any suspicious looking areas, such as polyps.
Another option that is easier to complete and often can be done at home is a stool based test. A common one is the fecal immunochemical test (FIT), which looks for hidden blood in the stool. When a Legacy patient between the ages of 50-75 comes in for their yearly check-up, they are given the home FIT test. The patient completes the test and either mails the sample or brings it to the Legacy lab, depending on which clinic they are visiting.
If the patient’s FIT test is negative, it is recommended the test be repeated in one year. If the patient’s test comes back abnormal they are then referred for further testing. The FIT test is inexpensive and is often covered by Medicare and most health insurance plans. As a Legacy patient, you may be eligible for a free FIT test with follow up testing if positive. Please ask your healthcare provider if you are eligible for free colon cancer screening.
Legacy has an award winning cancer prevention team. In 2017, the American Cancer society presented a National Partnership Award to Legacy for its work on colorectal cancer prevention. Also, in 2019 Legacy received a grant from the Cancer Prevention Reach Institute of Texas to increase colorectal cancer screening.
In addition, Legacy has also teamed up with other organizations to increase awareness about colorectal cancer, including:
- Texas Alliance of Colorectal Cancer Testing
- Southwestern Colorectal Cancer Coalition
- National Colorectal Roundtable
- The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center—FIT Program
For more information about colorectal screening at Legacy Community Health, call 832-548-5000 to schedule an appointment with one of our providers.