FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) March is colorectal cancer awareness month, reminding those above the age of 50 that screening is a good idea. Dr. Arva Chiu, an internal medicine specialist who focuses primarily on colorectal screenings and polyp removals, talked with us about some of the benefits of getting checked out.
March is colorectal cancer awareness month. Dr. Arva Chiu, a colorectal screening and polyp removal specialist, discusses how screening for cancer can potentially save lives. (Ramzi Abou Ghalioum/KTVF)
“It’s the third leading cause of cancer,” Dr. Chiu says, “and the second leading cause of cancer deaths.” Although this sounds foreboding, Dr. Chiu explains that this is exactly why getting screened is so important. “There are usually no symptoms,” she says. This means that if cancer develops, it may develop to latent stages before it is caught.
Although some may find the prospect of a colonoscopy daunting, Dr. Chiu says they are highly efficient. With most medical procedures, screening and treatment are done separately. During a colorectal screening, however, if polyps are found they can be removed with a special set of tools which are threaded into the endoscope. Polyps are a growth in the colon which can be compared to moles on the skin: they can be benign, cancerous, or precancerous.
Additionally, colonoscopies only need to be done once every ten years if results are clean.
However, there are other, less invasive alternatives to colonoscopies. Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) kits can be done at home and brought to a lab. This test must be done every year, however.
Another alternative is the Cologuard test, which involves capturing a stool sample which must be mailed to the Cologuard testing facility in Madison, Wisconsin. The sample must reach the lab within 72 hours. This test can be done every 5 years, according to Dr. Chiu.
Still, Dr. Chiu says that although colonoscopies are invasive, they pose a few advantages to the alternatives. “The biggest difference between this,” she says, picking up a FIT kit, “and the Cologuard test is that it’s detecting cancer. So if it’s positive, you’ve got cancer. Whereas a colonoscopy, you’re detecting cancer, but also you’re taking out polyps and potentially preventing cancer.”
Dr. Chiu says that most insurance providers, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover the cost of colonoscopies.
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