The Simple Screening that Can Both Catch and Prevent Cancer

Author: Leslie Toldo

Nearly 153 thousand Americans will learn they have colorectal cancer in 2024, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).  The ACS estimates more than 53 thousand will die this year, making it the third most common cause of cancer deaths.  As is the case with most types of cancer, catching it early can make a life-or-death difference.

“Finding it at an earlier stage allows the cancer to be immensely more curable,” said Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint Surgical Oncologist Dr. Scott Kizy. “We always recommend routine screening for colon cancer to all of our patients.”

Routine screening can be as simple as taking an at-home fecal occult test every three years for those at average risk for colon cancer.

“This means someone who does not have inflammatory bowel disease or a family history of colon cancer, and people who are not experiencing symptoms, like blood in the stool,” Kizy said.

People at average risk can also opt to have a colonoscopy every ten years. The outpatient procedure is the recommended screening for those at high risk, who may have to have the screenings more often than every ten years.  During a colonoscopy, a surgeon uses a tiny camera to look at the lining of your colon and rectum.

“During the procedure, we can identify any abnormal-looking spots and take biopsies if needed, “said Kizy’s colleague, Surgical Oncologist Dr. Tolutope Oyasiji. “We can also remove any polyps we find. Polyps are growths that can become cancers if left unchecked. By removing polyps, we can, in some cases, actually prevent cancer.”

If you opt for an at-home test, and it comes back positive, you will still need a colonoscopy.  While the procedure is painless, many people dread the prep required ahead of time.

“The colon cleanse required can be somewhat uncomfortable; however, for most people, the benefits of a colonoscopy surely outweigh the discomfort of the prep,” Oyasiji said. 

Surgery is often the main treatment used, especially for early-stage colon cancer. How involved the procedure is depends largely on the cancer’s stage.

“We treat patients with early cancer as well as patients who have disease that has spread to other parts of the body,” said Kizy. “When you meet with a surgeon, the visit can feel overwhelming. All patients have a duty to select a surgeon whom they feel comfortable with. Talking to your primary care doctor is a good place to start.”.

Patients not only have the right to choose a surgeon they trust, but to seek a second opinion about their cancer care.

“Oftentimes, a surgical oncologist is the first cancer doctor a patient sees, Dr. Kizy said. “Our specialized training allows us to best determine a treatment course and to get you to the appropriate physicians expeditiously.”

Surgical oncologists are general surgeons who have two to four years of specialized training in cancer surgery and are board-certified in surgical aspects of cancer care.

“The surgical oncologist is also rigorously trained in the newest and most innovative surgical techniques that can be afforded to cancer patients to improve their outcomes and recovery,” said Dr. Oyasiji.

These specialized surgeons work closely with the patient’s entire cancer care team.

“Surgical oncologists collaborate with the medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, radiologist, nutritionist, genetic counselors, pathologists, social workers, and other members of the cancer care multidisciplinary team to provide a seamless delivery of care,” Oyasiji adds.

Ideally, Dr. Kizy stresses, that care will come early, before a cancer has spread.

“While we have good treatments for patients with later-stage colorectal cancer, the easiest and most effective treatments are for people with early-stage cancers. This is why screening is so important, “ Kizy said.

To learn more about the Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint cancer care team, visit