Colon Cancer: A Common and Preventable Disease
March 02, 2018
By Robert E Clark, MD, Digestive Disease Consultants
If you could take a test which could drastically reduce your risk of cancer, would you take it? I know I would. Fortunately, doctors can conduct these tests in their offices or at a medical clinic without the need for a hospital stay.
Colon cancer is very common and is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women. In a person without a family history or other risk factors for colon cancer, the lifetime risk of developing colon cancer is roughly five percent. If you have a family history of colon cancer or other risk factors such as obesity and diabetes, that lifetime risk increases. Current medical standards recommend colon cancer screening for everyone age 50 and older. Luckily, there are several different tests to screen for colon cancer and reduce the risk of developing colon cancer.
How does colon cancer develop?
We know the vast majority of colon cancers begin as polyps. Polyps are fleshy growths on the inner lining of the large intestine. There are several different kinds of polyps and not all polyps would turn into cancer. Once polyps are completely removed, however, the polyp cannot turn into cancer. Current estimates are that 15 percent of women and 20 percent of men above the age of 50 and without any other risk factors for colon cancer will have polyps.
Tests to detect cancer early
There are several tests designed to find cancer at early stages. These tests include checking the stool for blood (FOBT) and fecal immunochemical test (FIT). Both of these tests require you to take a sample of stool for analysis on a yearly basis. Barium enemas and CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) are also approved methods for screening for colon cancer. The goal of those tests is to find large growths in the colon. They cannot, however, remove any growths. Any positive test would require a colonoscopy to further evaluate.
Tests to prevent colon cancer
Colonoscopy and flexible sigmoidoscopy are both tests that reduce your risk of colon cancer by detecting and removing polyps before they have a chance to turn into cancer. While you are sedated, a long, flexible tube about the diameter of a finger is inserted into the colon and colon is examined. In both tests, if a polyp or other abnormality is found, instruments can be passed through the scope to biopsy, treat, or remove the lesion. The polyp removed is then sent to the pathologist to evaluate the malignant potential of the polyp. The main difference between a colonoscopy and flexible sigmoidoscopy is that a colonoscopy examines the entire colon and flexible sigmoidoscopy only examines a third of the colon. Immediately after the procedure, you are able to resume the majority of your normal diet and other activities.
If you have a normal colonoscopy, the general recommendation is to have it repeated in 10 years. If polyps are found, it may be recommended to have the procedure repeated a shorter interval.
Colon cancer is a very common and very preventable disease. Almost everyone knows someone who has battled cancer. Colonoscopy has consistently shown to reduce an individual’s risk to develop colon cancer. Remember, it is far better to prevent cancer than to try to stop it. If you are above age 50, have a family history of colon cancer, or have any other questions regarding colon cancer screening, be sure to consult your physician.
For more information or to schedule a colonoscopy, please contact Dr. Clark or any of the physicians at Digestive Disease Consultants, 309-454-5900. Digestive Disease Consultants is located at 1302 Franklin Ave. in Normal. They offer patients and their referring physicians the highest quality in state-of-the-art care for digestive and liver disorders.
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