Early Detection of Colorectal Cancer Begins with Screenings

By: Laura Gros, RN, CBCN, Patient Care Coordinator

Despite the availability of various screenings and positive outcomes for early detection, colorectal cancer remains the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Louisiana has one of the highest incidence and mortality rates in the country.

Cancer that starts as a growth or polyp in the colon is called colon cancer. When it begins in the rectum, it is rectal cancer. If the point of origin is either organ—both of which are part of the large intestine—it may be referred to as colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer affects all genders and races, with African Americans at a 20% higher risk of having the disease. Due to an increase in cases among younger adults, healthcare experts now recommend that screenings for persons with average risk should begin at age 45 and continue every 10 years afterwards if results are normal.

When caught early, it is one of the most preventable and treatable cancers with an average 90% five-year survival rate. So why does it continue to be the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and third leading cause of cancer death in this country? According to the American Cancer Society, it's due to only about 66% of adults over age 50 being up to date on their screenings.

While a colonoscopy remains the gold standard of screenings, there are several other options including at-home stool sample tests that can alert you to anything suspicious.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and a good time to schedule a screening. Talk with your doctor about any concerns or call Thibodaux Regional Cancer Institute at (985) 493-4008 to find out more about screening tests recommended by the National Cancer Institute.


The most well-known screening procedure is a colonoscopy. With the patient sedated, the doctor inserts a thin, tube-like colonoscope through the rectum and into the colon. A light and lens attached to the scope allow close views of possible growths or polyps. With this one-stop test, the doctor can also remove precancerous polyps before they cause other problems. It takes about 10 years for polyps to turn into cancer.


Similar to a colonoscopy, this procedure also uses a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and lens to look inside the rectum and sigmoid—or lower colon—for polyps, abnormal areas or cancer. Polyps or tissue samples may also be removed during a sigmoidoscopy for a closer look under a microscope for signs of cancer.

Fecal occult blood test (FQBT)

With the FQBT, patients collect stool samples in containers that are sent to their doctor or laboratory. Technicians check the sample under a microscope for blood, which may be a sign of polyps, cancer or other conditions.

DNA stool test

The at-home DNA stool test—known by the brand name Cologuard®—checks for genetic changes in stool cells that could indicate colorectal cancer.

Results of either the FQBT or DNA stool test can be effective when done regularly. However, anything suspicious requires a follow-up colonoscopy.

Screening works.

While most screening tests have risks, colorectal cancer often doesn't cause symptoms in the early stages. The primary reasons to screen for colorectal cancer are:

  • It's preventable—The earlier cancer is detected, the better the survival chances. An estimated 50 percent of colorectal cases resulting in death are preventable.
  • It's treatable—Surgery to remove cancerous growths results in cure approximately 50 percent of the time.
  • It's easily detectable—A cancerous polyp can take from 10 to 15 years to develop into cancer. With early detection, doctors can remove polyps before they become cancerous.

Stay up to date on screenings to lower your colorectal cancer risk. To learn more talk with your healthcare provider or call Thibodaux Regional Cancer Institute at (985) 493-4008.