Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States for both men and women. Fortunately, the death rate is in decline, in large part due to an increase in preventive screening.
Colon cancer screening is one of the most effective early detection and prevention services available in medicine today. By identifying and removing tumors in the colon early on, small cancers, as well as pre-cancerous lesions that have a risk of turning into cancer, can be eliminated.
There are certain factors that put people at an increased risk of colon cancer. Family history is one. People who are most at risk are persons who have a first-degree family member—mother, father, brother, sister—who’s had colon cancer.
People who have Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or other specific diseases of the colon may also be at risk of developing colon cancer.
Behavioral risk factors come into play as well. Being obese, not engaging in physical activity, and having a low-fiber, low plant-based diet all contribute to an increased risk of colon cancer.
Ease of Screening
The importance of cancer screening cannot be overstated. Colon cancer is uniquely easy to screen for, for two important reasons:
- First, colon cancer is a very slow progressing cancer. It takes a very long time for colon cancer to grow. It can even take a couple of decades. This makes it possible to catch it early and to also go longer between screenings.
- Second, colon cancer screening is actually identifying cancer and pre-cancerous lesions that are technically outside of the body. It’s not like having to do a breast biopsy for breast cancer or screening for lung cancer where you actually have to go into people’s chests. You can actually find out what’s going on along the lining of the colon and stop progression before disease enters the body tissues.
Two Major Screening Options
There are two primary approaches to screening for colon cancer, and which method is used will determine the frequency of screening.
One approach is where the actual anatomy or structure of the colon is evaluated. This method is accomplished either through X-ray testing or a colonoscopy. The colonoscopy is the most advanced and thorough option and only needs to be done once every ten years.
The other approach involves obtaining stool and looking to see if there is any blood or evidence of cancer components. This method of testing must be done as frequently as every year to every three years, depending on the specific test.
Get Screened—It Could Save Your Life
Know your risk factors, discuss them with your doctor, and get screened. For the average American, the recommendations are to begin screening around age 50. Frequency of testing depends upon what test is used.
Most hospital facilities have set up efficient systems for getting people screened, and again, it’s the type of thing you can discuss with your doctor about what options are available.
Talk to your primary care physician about your risk of colorectal cancer and to determine if you should schedule a colonoscopy. At Winship Cancer Institute, we’re committed to advancing the standard of care for all our patients, including those diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer. Learn more about our colorectal cancer treatment program or schedule an appointment with our gastrointestinal specialists by calling 404-778-1900.
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Emory HealthConnection is where registered nurses can help you find a location or specialist that’s right for you. Call 404-778-7777 from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST (M-F).
Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University
Seeing over 17,000 patients a year, Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University is Georgia’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and serves as the coordinating center for cancer research, education and care throughout Emory University.