March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month – a good time to learn about this highly preventable disease and how you can protect yourself and your loved ones.
The American Cancer Society expects that in 2018, more than 140,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with colorectal cancers. Colon cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer death among men and women, and it is estimated that more than 50,000 people in the U.S. will die from the disease this year.
Colon cancer begins as a small growth in the lining of the colon called a polyp. Polyps are benign, but some types of polyps can develop into cancer if they are not detected and removed during a colonoscopy.
Typically, colon cancer has no symptoms or warning signs in the early stages, and sometimes people may not experience symptoms at all. Here are some symptoms that could indicate colon cancer:
Sometimes, the warning signs of colon cancer can be confused with other conditions like hemorrhoids, so call your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.
The best way to prevent colon cancer is through screening. Although there are many types of colon screenings including fecal occult blood test, double contrast barium enema, virtual colonoscopy and flexible sigmoidoscopy, there is one test that stands above the others: the colonoscopy.
Colonoscopy is the preferred method for screening because colon cancer can be detected and removed during the same procedure. Other types of screening can help detect the presence of cancer cells, but a positive test result means a follow-up colonoscopy will be needed.
A colonoscopy allows the gastroenterologist to examine the full length of the colon for polyps, lesions or abnormalities. The patient is under sedation during the entire procedure. Using a colonoscope (a flexible tube with a small camera), the doctor can look for abnormalities and remove them for biopsy and diagnosis.
Most adults who are at average risk for colon cancer should get their first colonoscopy at age 50. However, certain risk factors could lower the colonoscopy screening age. These include:
There is no better way to observe Colon Cancer Awareness Month than by scheduling your colonoscopy. If you are 50 years of age or older, talk to your primary care physician or gastroenterologist about getting a colonoscopy to prevent colon cancer. One simple procedure could save your life.
If you are not under the care of a board-certified gastroenterologist, use our Find a Center tool to locate a gastroenterologist in your area.