Colon cancer screening: As easy as swallowing a pill?
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. for men and women, according to the Colon Cancer Alliance. But, if caught early enough through screening, it’s possible to prevent it.
“Screening for colon cancer – when recommended – can prevent the disease by detecting polyps early or can help determine a treatment plan to achieve the best possible outcome,” says Dr. Joaquin Estrada, a colon and rectal surgeon at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago.
A colonoscopy is a common and effective form of screening, but for those whom a colonoscopy is not recommended, technology continues to advance.
“We now have access to a new screening method, a pill with a camera at each end that’s about the size of a multi-vitamin and can show us a general vicinity of where a polyp is within the colon,” says Dr. Estrada. “If a polyp is found, a colonoscopy will still be necessary to remove it, but this procedure is a good diagnostic tool for people who may not be a good candidate for colonoscopy.”
Here’s how it works: a person swallows the pill, and it passes through the body. While in the colon, the pill transmits images to a transponder worn on the person’s outside. Eventually, the pill passes all the way through and gets flushed down the toilet. A physician then analyzes the images from the transponder. The only downside: this procedure requires the same prep work as a colonoscopy.
No matter the method, it’s important that you consult your physician and get screened. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend screening at age 50, but suggest screening sooner if you have a family history of colon polyps or colon cancer or have an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
Take our Colorectal Health Assessment to determine your estimated lifetime risk.
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health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.