Colorectal cancer screening. Just the thought of it makes most people feel uneasy and embarrassed. But experts at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center say choosing to ignore it could cost you your life.

More than 140,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2011 and more than 49,000 will die from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.

Routine colon cancer screening can save your life.

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, but raising awareness of the disease and the importance of life-saving screenings is a yearlong effort for D. Kim Turgeon, M.D., associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School.

“We could prevent more than 90 percent of colon cancers if everyone had a colonoscopy,” says Turgeon. “The thought of a colonoscopy makes people uncomfortable, but it really shouldn’t. There are a variety of tests and preparations available to be able to individualize colonic screening to each person’s needs. What’s most important is to be screened.”

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, but a screening can identify colorectal cancers earlier, when the disease is easier to cure. In many cases, a screening can prevent the disease because doctors can find and remove polyps before they develop into cancer.

Screening for colon cancer should begin at age 50 for people of average risk. Those with certain risk factors, such as a family history of colon cancer or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, may need to begin screening earlier and should talk with their doctor.

Screening guidelines from the American Cancer Society include four different tests that find polyps and cancer:

* Flexible sigmoidoscopy: A flexible, lighted instrument is used to examine the rectum and the lower third of the colon
* Colonoscopy: Considered the gold standard, in which a longer, flexible and lighted instrument is inserted into the rectum and around the large intestine. If colonic polyps are found, this instrument can be used to remove them.
* Double-contrast barium enema: A series of X-rays of the colon and rectum
* CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy): A CT scan of the colon and rectum

Additional tests that mainly find cancer include:

* Fecal occult blood test, which checks for blood in the stool
* Fecal immunochemical test, a newer test that also checks for blood in the stool
* Stool DNA test, which looks for abnormal sections of DNA in the stool

To help raise awareness about the disease, Turgeon will answer questions about colon cancer during a live Web chat starting at noon Eastern time on Wednesday, April 13.

For more information about colon cancer or the live chat, visit or call the UM Cancer AnswerLine at (800) 865-1125.


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