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Colorectal cancer – Routine screening could save your life

In 2011, nearly 50,000 Americans will die from colorectal cancer. This disease, which usually originates in polyps found in the colon (large intestine) or rectum, is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States – but it doesn’t have to be this way.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 60 percent of colorectal cancer deaths could have been prevented through routine screenings after age 50. These preventative screenings are also therapeutically beneficial to patients, as they can detect polyps, which can then be removed during the procedure before they become cancerous.

Several different types of screening tests are currently used to find polyps and/or colorectal cancer. Talk with your doctor to determine which test is best for you.

A colonoscopy allows your doctor to examine the inner lining of your colon and rectum, using a thin, flexible tube called a colonoscope. With a video camera attached to the end, the colonoscope can take photos and/or video of your entire large intestine, helping to find ulcers, colon polyps, cancers and areas of inflammation or bleeding. A colonoscopy is also sometimes recommended as a follow-up test when an abnormality is detected during one of the other two tests listed below.

High-Sensitivity Fecal Occult Blood Testing (FOBT) includes two different types of stool tests. The first utilizes the chemical guaiac to detect blood in the stool, while the second uses antibodies to do the same. Using a preparation kit provided by their physician, a patient typically gathers a stool sample and returns it to their doctor or laboratory, where the sample is analyzed for blood.

Flexible Sigmoidoscopy is similar in procedure to a colonoscopy, in that a physician uses a short, thin, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer inside a patient’s rectum and colon. However, unlike a colonoscopy, this test does not offer a complete view of the entire colon – only the lower third.

Early detection is key in the fight against colorectal cancer – when a case is identified and treated early on, CDC data has shown that the five-year relative survival rate is 90 percent. A number of research institutions and healthcare companies are working to improve the diagnostic process for colorectal cancer by examining ways to make screening less invasive, while maintaining accuracy.

One such endeavor is the use of the Septin 9 methylated DNA biomarker to detect colorectal cancer in blood plasma, at any stage of the disease and within any part of the colon or rectum.

According to research presented at ASCO in 2010, an improved version of the SEPT9 methylated DNA test detected 90% of cancers at a specificity of 89%. This is good news for millions of Americans who do not currently comply with colorectal cancer screening guidelines! The SEPT9 blood-based colorectal cancer screening test appears to be an easy and sound way to detect cancers at the stage where excellent treatment outcomes are within reach.

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