Colon Cancer: Know the Facts

Submitted by Atlantic Gastroenterolgy on Wed, 04/15/2015 - 13:18

Colon Cancer Facts

Every year 150,000 people are diagnosed with colon cancer.  Approximately 50,0000 people die every year from this disease.  It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.  Chances are you know someone who has been affected by this disease.

1. Colon cancer is preventable.

We know that if we detect colon polyps early and remove them we can prevent colon cancer.  Colon polyps are small clumps of benign tissue that arise from the lining of the colon.  No one knows what causes colon polyps to form.  They go undetected unless an exam such as colonoscopy is performed to look for them.  There is new research showing that low dose aspirin probably has some protective effects against colon cancer. That may be good news to those already taking low dose aspirin.  The American Cancer Society does not recommend that healthy individuals begin taking low dose aspirin.

2.  Risk Factors for colon cancer.

The number one risk factor for colon cancer is age.  Age 50 is when the risk of developing colon polyps begins to increase.  About 90% of colon cancer is diagnosed after the age of 50.  It can occur in much younger individuals striking patients in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

Family history is also an important risk factor.  Having a first-degree relative such as a parent, sibling or child with colon cancer increases you risk for developing this disease.  You are also at increased risk if you have 2 or more second degree relatives with colon cancer; such as aunts, uncles, cousins or grandparents.  While family history is important, 75% of people with colon cancer have no family history.

African American Race increases your risk of colon cancer.  It is most significant in African American women who tend to have a higher incidence of large polyps.

Personal history of colon polyps is another risk factor.  If you have been diagnosed with polyps on previous exams then you are more likely to develop polyps in the future.  We know that polyps are the precursors to cancer.

Inflammatory bowel disease can increase your risk of colon cancer.  Ulcerative colitis and Crohns disease are conditions of the bowel that result in chronic irritation.  Over a number of years this can lead to a risk of precancerous cell growth and polyp formation. 

Lifestyle also plays a role in the risk of developing colon cancer.  High fat diet, smoking, excessive alcohol intake and a sedentary lifestyle are felt to increase ones risk. 

3.  The symptoms of colon cancer may be subtle.  In fact, colon cancer may me in the advanced stages once symptoms become obvious.  That is why it is important to have routine screening performed.  If detected early, colon cancer has a 90% cure rate.  Symptoms may include a change in bowel habits, constipation, abdominal pain, bloating, a change in the size of the stools, blood in the stools and anemia or low blood count

4.  Colonoscopy is the preferred method for colon cancer screening.  Colonoscopy is  a procedure that involves examining the inside of the large intestine with a light.  It is performed in the outpatient setting.  Prior to the procedure a bowel prep is administered to the patient.  A light sedative is given through an IV.  The procedure involves advancing an instrument with a light, lens and camera through the large intestine.  If polyps are detected they are removed.  The procedure usually takes 20-30 minutes to perform.  Afterward, the patient recovers and is discharge home with a driver.  Normal activity resumes the following day.

5.  Colon cancer screening should begin at the age of 50 in individuals who have none of the risk factors mentioned above.  If there is a family history of colon cancer then colonoscopy is recommended 10 years prior to the age of the family member at the time of diagnosis.  Once colon polyps have been diagnosed colonoscopy is recommended every 3 to 5 years.

You can prevent colon cancer.  See your doctor for routine check-ups.  Request a colonoscopy beginning at the age of 50.  Notify your doctor if you have any changes in your bowel habits or notice blood in the stool.

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