March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month - Are you 50 or older? Time to get screened

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths affecting both men and women in the United States, and is also the fourth most common cancer. More than 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colon cancer each year, leading to approximately 50,000 annual deaths. With these statistics, we should all be aware of our risk factors, and know what we can do to prevent this disease.

Risk Factors for Colon Cancer

While colon cancer does not discriminate with racial or ethnic backgrounds, your risk increases greatly with age. In 90% of all colorectal cancer diagnoses, the patient is over 50 years old. You are also at a greater risk of developing colorectal cancer if you have any of the following:

  • History of polyps in your colon
  • Personal history of colorectal cancer, or cancer of the ovary, endometrium or breast
  • Inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Family history of colorectal cancer or polyps
  • A hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome present such as the familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC)

Screening Saves Lives

The American Cancer Society recommends that men and women should begin screening for colorectal cancer at the age of 50, or sooner if you have any predisposed risk factors. Screening saves lives.

Colon cancer can be prevented if screenings reveal polyps that are removed while they are still benign, before they develop into malignant tumors. There are various colon cancer screening methods available, in addition to the colonoscopy. You should consult with your doctor about which method is right for you. These tests can help to detect, and prevent development of colon cancer.

Prevention and Detection

Some tests are used more for prevention and detection, as compared to tests that specifically reveal colon cancer. A Virtual Colonoscopy is available, or a CT Colonography, which is far less invasive and uses a smaller, shorter tube than the traditional colonoscopy. The virtual colonoscopy can also be performed in a short period of time, a matter of minutes. It is recommended to have this exam every five years.
The traditional colonoscopy is used to diagnose and remove polyps before they turn into cancerous tumors, with a tiny camera taking pictures and the use of specific tools to remove any polyps present. A cleansing of the colon is required before this test which should be repeated every 10 years.

A double-contrast barium enema, or a lower GI tract radiography, is used to x-ray the colon and rectum with a barium solution and air. It is required to cleanse the colon prior to this test, which is recommended to be repeated every five years.

A flexible sigmoidoscopy is similar to a traditional colonoscopy but with a shorter tube and accessing only the lower third area of the colon known as the sigmoid area. This test should be repeated every five years.

Colon Cancer Detection

There are two tests that specifically reveal the presence of colon cancer, and those are the Fecal Occult Blood Test (gFOBT), or the Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT). The gFOBT is a fairly new test that reveals even tiny traces of blood in stool, that could reveal polyps or colon cancer.

The stool DNA test is also used to check for specific abnormalities in stool samples and may be combined with another blood test. For asymptomatic individuals, however, screening tests that can aid in prevention are preferable screening methods.

You can reduce your risk of developing colon cancer by stopping smoking, eating a diet high in vegetables, and talking to your doctor about which screenings are right for you.

Additional Information at the American Cancer Society

Colon cancer can be prevented, let’s help spread the word that regular screenings can save lives and reduce the number of cancer diagnoses and deaths caused by this disease. Please visit the American Cancer Society recommendations for early detection of colon cancer for more information.

Your friends at Greater Waterbury Imaging Center care about your health and urge you to see your doctor to discuss your risk factors and recommended screening options.