Colorectal Cancer Screening Options for Seniors

Sunrise Senior Living  |  March 13, 2019
Colorectal Cancer Screening Options for Seniors
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Colorectal cancer is the third-most common type of cancer among both men and women and the second-leading cause of cancer deaths. While incidences of colorectal cancer are declining among adults age 50 and over, newly diagnosed cases among younger adults are on the rise. Scientists haven’t been able to pinpoint a reason for the increase.

Researchers have a better idea why colorectal cancer rates among older adults are declining: lower rates of smoking and an increase in screenings.

In recognition of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, we are sharing the risk factors and screening options for the disease.

Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is cancer that begins in the colon (colon cancer) or rectum (rectal cancer). The leading risk factors for colorectal cancer include:

  • Family history: If a first-degree relative has a history of the disease, your risk is higher.
  • Racial and ethnic background: Researchers aren’t sure why, but African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews are at higher risk for colorectal cancer.
  • Age: The older you are, the more likely you are to develop colorectal cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, the average age of a person diagnosed with colon cancer is 68. Research also shows 95 percent of cases of colorectal cancer occur in people aged 45 and older.
  • Lifestyle: Your lifestyle choices also impact your risk. People with a diet that includes red meat and processed meats are at higher risk than those with a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and fiber. Smokers and those who consume high amounts of alcohol also have an increased risk. Finally, exercise plays a role. Those who are sedentary are more likely to develop colon cancer.
  • Some medical conditions: People with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, are at higher risk for developing colorectal cancer. Those with a history of polyps are as well. Type II diabetes also increases your risk for rectal cancer.

The good news is that screening can often lead to an early diagnosis and intervention.

Beyond Colonoscopy: Colorectal Cancer Screening Options

Colonoscopy is considered the gold standard when it comes to screening for colon cancer. It reduces the risk of cancer deaths by 60 to 70 percent. But an estimated 40 percent of people who should have a colonoscopy won’t.

Some people are put off by the prep and the procedure itself. Others don’t have insurance and can’t afford to pay privately for the screening. Because the test is usually done under sedation, some adults may avoid getting a colonoscopy.

What’s important to know is there are other options to consider. The most common ones include:

  • Fecal occult blood test (FOBT): There are two types of FOBT options, both of which check for blood in the stool. Patients receive a kit to collect their sample at home and return to their physician. Since polyps and colorectal cancers often bleed, having this test done every year can help lower your risk of death by 15 to 33 percent.
  • Stool DNA test: This FDA-approved screening test, Cologuard, not only checks for the presence of blood in the stool, but also for nine DNA biomarkers in three genes found in colorectal cancer and precancerous advanced adenomas. The patient receives a testing kit by mail. Once the sample is collected, they mail it directly to the lab. For people at average risk for colorectal cancer, it can be more convenient than a colonoscopy. Medicare and many insurance providers cover the expenses. One caution, however, is that this test has a higher rate of false-positive results.
  • Sigmoidoscopy: Less extensive than a colonoscopy, the sigmoidoscopy examines the rectum and sigmoid colon. While sedation typically isn’t used, prep to clear the lower colon is still required. Air is blown into the colon to expand it so physicians can more easily see potential polyps and abnormal growths. Some find this more uncomfortable than a colonoscopy.

While other screening options are in development, these are considered the most reliable.

Cancer Screenings for Seniors

Taking a proactive approach to cancer prevention is important. It allows physicians to intervene early. To learn more, we encourage you to review “Which cancer screenings do older adults need?” and share it with the seniors in your family.

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