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Colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in men and women in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. But a diagnosis doesn’t have to be a death sentence when caught early. In fact, people who are diagnosed with stage one colon cancer have an 80 to 90 percent chance of survival.
And, unlike other forms of cancer, there are things you can do to prevent a diagnosis altogether.
Colon cancer is preventable.
Using a flexible tube attached to a small camera, doctors can search for and remove abnormal growths in the colon called polyps during a screening test called a colonoscopy. Polyps aren’t cancerous but when left in the colon, some types of polyps can develop into cancerous tumors. Removing any polyps before they have a chance to turn into cancer eliminates your risk of colon cancer.
Because doctors can remove any signs of polyps during the screening test, you can leave the appointment reassured that you won’t have to come back for an additional procedure until your next screening. But if you begin to develop symptoms of colon cancer before your next screening, contact your physician to see if you need to be evaluated.
Early detection through colonoscopy can save your life.
Some people delay colon cancer screening because they’re afraid of a diagnosis. But waiting to get screened gives polyps time to grow into cancer and spread, which is harder to treat.
If you follow recommended screening guidelines, you have a better chance of detecting signs of colon cancer early when it’s most curable. Once colon cancer has grown in size or spread to other parts of the body, treatment becomes more difficult. If colon cancer progresses to stage four, the five-year survival rate is less than 10 percent.
The earlier #ColonCancer is detected, the better it’s defeated. On the #LiveWellHealthy blog, Michael Sickler shares how regular screenings can help you prevent the disease altogether: https://bit.ly/3hUcmpj.
Don’t wait for symptoms to get screened.
Colon cancer symptoms may include:
- Rectal bleeding
- Blood in stools
- Thinning stools
- Unexplained weight loss
- Nausea or vomiting
However, it’s important to get screened for colon cancer early before any symptoms develop. Getting screened before symptoms ensures your doctor can remove any polyps before they have a chance to grow into cancer, or detect and remove early stages of colon cancer when treatment is most effective.
If you wait until colon cancer symptoms appear, it’s likely cancer has begun growing and spreading. That’s what happened to a patient who canceled her colonoscopy last year. Despite experiencing rectal bleeding, she delayed her colonoscopy for one year. After 12 months, she returned to get screened and discovered she has stage four colon cancer. Because the disease has now spread to other parts of her body, she is currently fighting cancer with chemotherapy.
When to start getting screened for colon cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommends most people begin regular colon cancer screenings via colonoscopy starting at age 45. Depending on what your doctor finds during the procedure, you may not need another screening for one to ten years.
If you are younger than 45 but have a family history of colon cancer or symptoms of colon cancer, talk to your doctor about getting screened early. While colon cancer is commonly diagnosed in adults over the age of 50, it’s still possible to develop the disease at a younger age. Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman’s private battle with colon cancer began in his 30s, and he was only 43 years old when he tragically passed this summer.
Risk factors for colon cancer.
It’s unclear what causes colon cancer to develop, but certain risk factors increase your chances of being affected by colon cancer. Risk factors include:
- Age – Your risk increases as you get older.
- Race or Ethnicity – The incidence of colon cancer is higher in Black Americans.
- Lifestyle – Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption increasea your risk.
- Medical history – A family history of colon cancer, or a personal history of other colon-related illnesses, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, increases your risk. Likewise, if you’ve been diagnosed with colon cancer in the past, you have a greater risk of developing it again.
How to minimize your risk of colon cancer.
The best thing you can do for your health is to stay up-to-date on colon cancer screenings. Getting regular colonoscopies ensures your doctors can find and remove any polyps or early signs of cancer before it worsens.
In addition to getting colonoscopies, you can minimize your risk of colon cancer by:
- Eating a healthy diet high in fiber (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) and low in fat
- Exercising regularly
- Avoiding smoking or excessive alcohol use
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
The earlier colon cancer is detected, the better it’s defeated.
Colon cancer screening can save your life, and you shouldn’t wait to get screened. The Colon Cancer Screening Program at MedStar Health is able to provide no-cost colon cancer screening for Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Anne Arundel County residents who are uninsured or underinsured and have limited income.
We offer screenings at four of our local hospitals, and free transportation to and from your appointment.