If you’ve ever spotted blood on toilet paper after a bowel movement, you know how scary it can be. Blood in the stool can be from harmless conditions like hemorrhoids or from more serious ones like cancer. Even if the risk of it being from cancer is minor, it’s something you want to get checked out. Getting an early diagnosis is the best way to effectively treat any cancer, including cancers of the bowel, that is why it is recommended to never ignore blood in your stool.
What might be even scarier is that sometimes there is blood in your stool that you don’t see. The amount is so small that it’s invisible to the naked eye. Doctors use screening tests for blood that can’t be seen for the early detection of polyps or bowel cancer.
What Is Bowel Cancer?
Bowel cancer refers to any cancer of the colon or rectum. It is the same thing as colorectal cancer. Your doctor might recommend a screening test for colorectal cancer to detect any signs or symptoms of polyps or cancer in the colon or rectum. Once cancer occurs, it might be described as colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on its location.
Bowel cancer typically develops as people get older. The American Cancer Society recently changed the recommended screening age for people with an average risk from 50 years to 45 years of age. A larger number of younger adults are being diagnosed with the disease, but age continues to be the primary risk factor. The older you are, the greater your risk of developing bowel cancer.
People who have inflammatory diseases of the colon, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, are also more likely to develop the disease. Other risk factors include smoking, obesity, eating a poor diet, and being inactive.
Bowel cancer usually begins when small growths of tissue called polyps grow on the bowel wall. Many people get polyps without ever developing bowel cancer. Others become malignant over time, slowly turning into cancer. If they aren’t detected and removed before that happens, the cancer can spread to other areas of the body. Two types of tests are used to screen for bowel cancer including the fecal occult blood test and a colonoscopy.
The Fecal Occult Blood Test
A fecal occult blood test (FOBT) is a lab test used to screen for bowel cancer or polyps. A FOBT test detects the presence of blood in the stool that is sometimes present with polyps or cancer. However, all polyps and cancers don’t bleed, so the test is not always accurate. This is a significant shortcoming when an accurate diagnosis is vital and this lack of accuracy is also true with at home tests. You can read more about the effectiveness of at-home colon cancer tests and colonoscopy here.
Even if you’ve never had a colonoscopy, you’ve probably heard plenty of stories about the prep. Many people agree that the preparation they do at home before the test is the worst part. Fortunately, this part of the screening test has improved in recent years. Most patients tolerate the prep much more easily than those that were used in the past.
The colonoscopy procedure itself is short. The medical staff will make every effort to respect your privacy and put you at ease. You will be sedated to help keep you remain still and comfortable. The doctor will insert a small, flexible instrument into your rectum. The tube has a tiny video camera that allows the doctor to look at your colon lining. The colonoscopy is also equipped to remove polyps and/or take small biopsies of suspicious areas. This allows the doctor to remove the growths as soon as they are found and before they can turn to cancer.
Colonoscopies usually take about 30 minutes. You will stay in recovery for a little while after the procedure to wake up from the sedation. Other than some mild cramping, you won’t experience any discomfort or pain. You can even begin to eat normally as soon as you leave the facility.
The colonoscopy is the most effective method of detecting polyps in the bowel. It allows doctors to find and remove polyps before they become cancerous. Unlike the FOBT, you don’t have to worry about having a false-negative test result.
More Reasons to Test for Fecal Blood
Not only is blood in your stool a possible sign of bowel cancer, it can also be an indicator that you are at a greater risk of dying early from other conditions. New research shows that people with “invisible” blood in their stools are at a greater risk of dying from respiratory, hormone and neuropsychological diseases, circulatory, digestive, blood, and other types of cancer. Although researchers don’t yet have an interpretation for these findings, it does emphasize the importance of getting the presence of blood in your stools diagnosed.
A colonoscopy is an important screening test for everyone aged 45 and older. People with a higher risk of developing bowel cancer should follow their doctor’s recommendations for earlier and/or more frequent screenings. Don’t wait until the signs of polyps or colon cancer become visible. Schedule a colonoscopy with Carolina Digestive Health Associates and make sure you aren’t missing important clues about your health.