Each year, VA diagnoses 4,000 new cases of colorectal cancer in Veterans. Colorectal cancer screening can help detect cancer early.
Marine Corps Veteran Larry Shuster was being screened regularly through home-based fecal immunochemical (FIT) testing every year when blood was discovered in his stool. Then, he had a colonoscopy performed to get a better understanding of how advanced his cancer was. Fortunately, the cancer was caught early due to the regular screening and was able to be removed.
“I was listening to my doctors,” shared Shuster. “Everyone really paid me a lot of attention to make sure I was okay.”
Shuster now encourages his fellow Veterans to get screened for colorectal cancer. “Just get it done, and let the doctors help you,” said Shuster.
Colorectal cancer screening saves lives
Colorectal cancer doesn’t care about race, gender or economic status: If you are 45-75 years old, you need colorectal screening. This most commonly comes in the form of a colonoscopy every 10 years. Other options include a home-based fecal immunochemical test that checks for blood in the stool that you can’t see.
“VA encourages all Veterans to take care of their health and get screened for colorectal cancer,” said Dr. Folasade May, a gastroenterologist at VA’s Greater Los Angeles Healthcare Medical Center. “Colorectal cancer is one of the few cancers where if we catch it early through screening, screening can be the treatment at the same time. Unfortunately, we see lower screening rates in some of our most vulnerable populations, including our American Indian and Native Alaskan Veterans. We really encourage these Veterans to reach out to their primary care provider about screening.”
Department of Defense statistics show American Indians serve in the military among the highest rates per capita compared to other ethnic groups. In fact, according to 2017 U.S. Census Bureau data, there are more than 14,000 living American Indian Veterans.
Check the facts on colorectal cancer screening
There are some misconceptions about colorectal cancer screening and colonoscopies. Let’s fact check some misconceptions.
- Colon Cancer is a man’s disease: Colon cancer impacts men and women equally. Both genders need regular screening.
- I’ll know if I’m sick and need a colonoscopy: Colon cancer is a silent killer, meaning you may not see signs before you have advanced disease. This is why regular screening is so important.
- Only old people get colorectal cancer: Evidence suggests screenings start at 45 years old for a reason. There is a rise in colon cancer rates in younger populations.
A colonoscopy is a procedure that is both diagnostic and curative and just might save your life. Talk to your primary care provider about getting screened today.
To learn more about cancer care at VA, visit cancer.va.gov.
*Editor: The title of this post was edited on 8/26 from “All Veterans need colorectal cancer screening” to “Colorectal cancer screening: what you need to know.”