March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month, so this is a great opportunity to talk to your physician about colon cancer screening. I would like to share some information about colon cancer and what you need to know to decrease the incidence and prevalence of this disease. Here are several important questions and answers to discuss with your physician in regard to colon cancer and your risk.
Who gets colon cancer?
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths and the third most common cancer in men and women. Most often, colon cancer appears in people ages 50 and older, and the risk for cancer increases with age. African-Americans should consider starting colon cancer screening at the age of 45 due to their higher rates of colon cancer. Both men and women can get colon cancer. Having a close relative with colon cancer or a diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may increase your risk for colon cancer. Risk is based on your personal and family history. Please discuss colon cancer screening with your personal physician.
What can you do to reduce your risk of colon cancer?
Almost all colon cancers begin as a polyp, which is precancerous growth. Polyps may be present for years before they develop into a cancer. Screening is the best way to reduce your risk for colon cancer, because the goal is to find polyps before they turn into cancer. Regular screening is important because most people will not have any symptoms for colon cancer or colon polyps at the time of screening. If there are symptoms, patients may note blood in the stool, unexplained abdominal pain, or unexplained weight loss.
Aside from regular screening for colon cancer, a diet low in animal fats and high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains may reduce the risk of chronic disease, and may also help lower the risk for colon cancer. Other healthy lifestyle choices such as increasing your physical activity, limiting alcohol intake and avoiding tobacco can also help reduce your risk for colon cancer.
When should you get screened for colon cancer?
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends regular screening should begin at age 50. However, those with a family history, including a close relative with colon cancer, IBD or genetic issues may require earlier screening.
What does each screening test involve?
Colonoscopy is still the most effective screening exam. Polyps, if found, will be removed and sent to the lab for the pathologist to examine. Adenomatous polyps carry a higher risk of becoming a colon cancer if left to grow.
Once you’re ready to discuss screening for colon cancer with your physician, you want to be aware of any preparation that needs to be done including changes to your diet and medication prior to the testing, as well as how you will receive your results.
The important message is that colon cancer screening is important and should not be delayed, as colon cancer is a highly preventable disease if caught early. Please talk to your physician about colon cancer screening to determine if you are a candidate for screening. If so, do not delay. Screening and removal of polyps are your best defense against the serious risk of colon cancer. Colon cancer screening should be covered by insurance but, for those without insurance or who have a limited income, a financial assistance program based on a sliding fee scale is available to help.
Written by John Ciocchi, M.D., a partner at Surgical Associates in Springfield, Vt. This press release was distributed by Anna Smith, Springfield Medical Care Systems.