MINNEAPOLIS --- Cancer of the colon is an unpleasant topic, but ignoring it won't make it go away. March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Take some time this month to learn more about how to keep your colon healthy.
Facts & Figures
First the good news: the overall chance of getting colon cancer is about 5%, and the death rate from colon cancer has been declining over the last 15 years. The Colon Cancer Alliance says the decline is due to increased awareness and more screenings. That said, colon cancer is still the third most diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer deaths. The disease affects both men and women.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) says 142,820 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer this year. Of those 50,830 will end up dying from the disease. However, the ACS also says with early detection, the five-year survival rate can be as high as 90%!
Colon cancer can strike anyone at any age; however, most cases appear in people over age 50. People who have a parent, sibling or child with colon cancer are two- to three-times more likely to develop the disease. Ethnicity also plays a role. African-American men and women have a higher rate of colon cancer, as do Jews of Eastern-European descent.
The Colon Cancer Coalition says regular screening can prevent a large number of cancers from ever taking hold. Most health organizations recommend screenings beginning at age 50. However, if other members of your family have had colon cancer, you should talk with your doctor about what age you should begin getting screened.
Here are the most common screenings available:
Colonoscopy - This is considered the best or 'Gold Standard' when it comes to checking for colon cancer. During a colonoscopy, your gastroenterologist uses a scope inserted through the rectum to look for polyps or evidence of cancer. Sedation is generally available for patients want it. If polyps are found during the exam, they can be removed and sent to a lab for further examination.
Sigmoidoscopy - During this screening the doctor only examines the rectum and part of the colon. A sigmoidoscopy takes only 10-20 minutes to complete, but still requires that a full colon cleansing take place on the day before the test. If evidence of cancer is found, a colonoscopy is generally recommended.
CT Colonography - This is a relatively new way to screen for colon cancer. During the procedure a doctor uses 3-D imagery to examine the colon and look for signs of disease. Some people prefer this test because it is less invasive than the traditional colonoscopy, but it does require a pre-screening cleanse and the insertion of a small tube into the rectum. If signs of cancer are detected, a full colonoscopy will need to be done.
Double Contract Barium Enema - This procedure involves inserting a small tube into the rectum followed by an infusion of barium sulfate. Doctors then use x-ray imaging technology to search for signs of cancer. If something suspicious is detected, a full colonoscopy will be performed.
Stool sample tests - There are some tests that rely on examining bowel samples. One involves checking for signs of blood in the stool sample. Another will checks for DNA evidence of cancer.
Here are some links to use for additional information on colon cancer.
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
Colon Cancer Alliance
Get Your Rear In Gear
American Cancer Society
American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons