If a simple test could save you from sickness, pain, anxiety and possibly death, you would say, “Sure! I’ll take the test! Why not?” Logical as it may be, not everyone sees colonoscopies, or colon cancer screening, in this way. The American Cancer Society estimates that little more than half of adults in the recommended 50+ age group get their recommended colonoscopies. And colon cancer IS preventable IF you get screened.
Colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death, is referred to as any cancer of the colon (the large intestine) or rectum. Most colorectal cancers start as a polyp, or growth, that can be removed during a colonoscopy before it can become cancer. “In my role at St. Luke’s, I see patients in more advanced stages of colon cancer who need colorectal surgery and then possibly chemotherapy and radiation,” explains Asim Ali, MD. “But if patients have proper and regular screenings, they may never need to see a doctor like me.
In fact, 60 percent of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented with colonoscopies. And colorectal cancer death rates have been dropping steadily for the last few decades because of screening, early detection and the removal of polyps.
Screening IS Prevention
The main screening test for colorectal cancer, the colonoscopy, is not ONLY a screening test; it’s also a means of prevention and elimination of potentially cancerous polyps. Polyps are growths on the lining of the colon. If cancer forms in a polyp, it can eventually grow into the wall of the colon or rectum. Colonoscopies can get rid of any potentially cancerous polyps completely or detect cancer early enough to ensure the best chances of successful treatment.
“Doctors recommend that all patients over the age of 50 get a colonoscopy every five years and possibly even more frequently if they have polyps found in their initial test, a recommendation based on the fact that 90 percent of colon cancer occurs in people over 50,” explains Dr. Ali.
Part of prevention is knowing your specific risk factors. Colorectal cancer shows one of the strongest links between diet, weight and lifestyle; obesity and a sedentary lifestyle increase your chances of colon cancer. As such, people with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of colorectal cancer because they share many of the same risk factors.
Researchers have found other risk factors (some can be controlled, others cannot) including:
● A diet high in red meat and processed meats
● A diet high in fat and low in fiber
● Smoking and heavy alcohol use
● Age 50+
● A history of colorectal polyps or inflammatory bowel disease
● A family history of colorectal cancer (doctors recommend screening prior to age 50)
● Chronic constipation
Unfortunately, colon cancer, dubbed “the silent killer” is mostly asymptomatic, which makes screening even more critical. When patients start experiencing signs of colon cancer, symptoms can range from stomach pain and rectal bleeding to bouts of constipation and diarrhea.
The Best Way to Stay Colon Cancer-Free
Try to maintain a healthy diet full of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, stay active and get an annual colonoscopy. “A cancer diagnosis can be very scary and our team is here to guide and support you should that become your reality,” says Dr. Ali. “But get your recommended screenings, so we can prevent or catch cancer and treat it as soon as possible.”
To learn more about colorectal cancer, visit cancer.sluhn.org.
To schedule your colonoscopy, visit www.sluhn.org/digestive or call 1-866-STLUKES (785-8537).