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Screenings are Key to Preventing Colon Cancer

  • Category: General Health
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Matt Gougler

Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women in the United States. In fact, it’s estimated that — this year alone — some 137,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and another 50,000 will die from the disease.

As startling as those statistics are, it’s even more shocking to learn that:

From 75% to 90% of colorectal cancer can be prevented through early detection.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and ATRIO Health Plans thinks this is an ideal time to increase awareness about steps that can be taken to prevent this deadly disease. Those who are age 50 or older should pay particular attention, because 90 percent of new colorectal-cancer cases occur in this age group. Heredity also plays a role, in that those who have a family history of colorectal cancer are at a two-to-three times greater risk of developing the disease. Additional risk factors include having: Crohn’s disease; ulcerative colitis; or a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer.

Colorectal Cancer Overview

The colon and rectum, which are part of the digestive system, together form what’s referred to as the large intestine. The upper four to six feet of the large intestine constitutes the colon, while the lower five to six inches is the rectum.

Colorectal cancer — which often is referred to as colon cancer — occurs when cells within the colon or rectum become abnormal and grow uncontrollably. The majority of colorectal cancers can be traced to the cells lining the inside wall of the colon and rectum.

Polyps that take root in the colon or rectum often are a precursor to colon cancer. Although polyps initially are noncancerous, they frequently become cancerous and thus should be removed.

Like many cancers, colorectal cancer often isn’t accompanied by symptoms. When there are symptoms, however, they include:

  • a change in bowel habits;
  • blood in the stool that is either bright red or very dark;
  • diarrhea, constipation, or a feeling that the bowel is not emptying completely;
  • stools that are very narrow;
  • frequent gas pains, bloating, cramps, or a sense of fullness;
  • unexplained weight loss.

Screenings are Crucial

Being screened for colorectal cancer is central to either preventing the disease entirely, or at least detecting it early when it’s most treatable. According to the National Cancer Institute, it’s currently recommended that screenings start at age 50 and continue until age 75 for the average-risk population, and at 40 years of age (in some instances younger) for those in high-risk groups.

The most common colon-cancer screenings are:

  • Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) – This is a noninvasive test in which a stool sample is lab tested to determine it contains blood, which could by a sign of cancer or advanced polyps. If the result is positive, the person likely would be scheduled for a colonoscopy.
  • Colonoscopy – Using a colonoscope, a gastroenterologist peers inside the large intestine, looking for early warning signs of colon or rectal cancer. During the procedure, most polyps and some cancers can be removed.
  • Flexible Sigmoidoscopy – In this procedure, a thin, lighted tube — called a sigmoidoscope — is used to scan the rectum and lower colon for polyps, tumors, or any other abnormalities.

One in three people ages 50 and older are not up-to-date with their colon-cancer screenings. If you’re in this group, March is the month to get on schedule.