March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so we’re pausing our regularly scheduled potty coverage to get you up to speed.
According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in 23 men will battle colorectal cancer at some point in their lives. Luckily, this disease is largely preventable and early screening can be a literal lifesaver. But in order to save lives, we’ve gotta spread the word.
What Every Dude Should Know About Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer is normally associated with people over the age of 50. However, the New York Times has reported a sharp increase in colorectal cancer in adults as young as 20 or 30 (this is called early-age onset colorectal cancer). And a recent study has found colon cancer rates have been increasing for every generation born since 1950. Today, one in seven colon cancer patients is under 50.
"This study is really a wake-up call to the medical community that a relatively large number of colon cancers are occurring in people under 50,” says Dr. Samantha Hendren, an associate professor of surgery at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and one of the study’s lead authors.
The key to beating colorectal cancer is early detection, especially if anyone in your family has been affected (20-30% of all patients have a family history of CRC). In 2018, the American Cancer Society updated their guidelines for recommended screening for colorectal cancer from age 50 to age 45 and in 2020, the United States Preventive Task Force (USPSTF) issued draft guidance doing the same. These guidelines will hopefully be finalized this year which is critical because most insurance companies base their coverage on USPSTF guidance.
There are other institutions that recommend screening before age 50 for certain groups at-risk groups. This includes people who have a personal or familial history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps, African Americans, and others who are at increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Bottom line: there’s no excuse for not getting screened. But how do you do it?
How to Get Screened for Colorectal Cancer
The first step to getting screened is a call to your healthcare provider. If you feel like your provider is not taking you seriously about signs or symptoms, advocate for yourself and seek a second opinion.
Most testing options are approved by the USPSTF and covered by insurance for those eligible for screening. Here’s an overview of the different types of tests that can detect colorectal cancer early--when it’s most curable.
Colonoscopy is often considered the “gold standard” for colon screening because it can identify polyps and remove them during the same procedure. Doctors say having a colonoscopy can reduce the number of colon cancer-related deaths by 60 percent.
During the procedure, a doctor uses a tiny digital camera that can detect any troublesome growths. To prepare for a colonoscopy, you stick to a clear liquid diet the day before the procedure. Check out our complete colonoscopy prep guide here.
If your colonoscopy doesn't find any signs of cancer, you should have the exam again every 10 years.
These tests analyze the DNA of your poop and you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own bathroom. What a time to be alive. At-home stool tests can be ordered by doctors, urgent care centers, or retail clinics depending on the type of test.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to fondle your own feces. But be sure to do a thorough hand-washing once you’ve done the deed (you should be doing that every time you leave the throne, anyway).
Contrary to popular belief, this does not involve a doctor examining your bum via Zoom. A virtual colonoscopy, also called CT colonography, is a non-invasive, CT scan of the colon and rectum that produces 3D images of the colon and rectum, allowing the doctor to look for polyps or cancer within the images. Just like a regular colonoscopy, you have to stick to a clear-liquid diet the day before. However, unlike a traditional colonoscopy, polyps cannot be removed with a CT colonography.
Don’t worry about pronouncing this one. Just call it a “flex sig.” Prior to this procedure, an enema is done to clean out the lower part of the colon and the rectum. The doctor then uses a thin tube with a tiny camera to look at the sigmoid colon and the rectum, removing any visible polyps.
Since less than half of the large intestine and all of the rectum can be seen with this method, it’s often done in combination with a stool test to check for blood in the stool.
Need Screening Advice? Fight CRC Has You Covered
Our friends at Fight Colorectal Cancer are leading the charge in raising awareness not just in March, but every day all year. If you’re on the fence about getting screened, check out their resource center which has prep tips, survivor stories, and guides to choosing the right type of test.
Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is your chance to be a man and take a stand against this preventable disease. That can mean donating to a non-profit like Fight CRC, scheduling a time to get screened, or encouraging others (ahem, your parents) to talk to their doctor. It doesn’t have to be awkward—just think, you might save someone’s life (or your own).