Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month: Four Things You Should Know to Prevent and Detect Colon Cancer
Dr. Sudy Jahangiri is the Medical Oncologist with expertise in gastrointestinal cancer at St. Mary’s Cancer Centers of Colorado, part of Intermountain Health.
The American Cancer Society estimates more than 153,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year making it one of the most common cancers in both men and women.
March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month and updated guidelines make it possible for more people to be screened with a colonoscopy starting at age 45.
If you are over 45 years old or have a history of colon cancer in your family, talk to your doctor about your options for early detection and prevention.
“Some people are at a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. This risk increases with age with those over age 45 at highest risk," said Dr. Sudy Jahangiri Medical Oncologist with expertise in gastrointestinal cancer. “Early detection is critical to catching colorectal cancer and saving lives.”
Intermountain Health experts are working to raise awareness so that people know that colorectal cancer is preventable, treatable, and beatable with early detection.
Here’s what they want you to know:
1. Know When to Get Screened
Colon cancer is one of the most treatable cancers, but the only way to detect it is through screening. People with an average risk of colon cancer should start their screenings at age 45.
For most patients a colonoscopy is then only needed once every 10 years, or once every five years if your doctor determines you have an increased risk of colon cancer. Earlier screening may be recommended for anyone with a family history of colon cancer.
If you have irritable bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or other conditions that affect the gastrointestinal tract, talk with your doctor or a GI specialist to determine when and how often you should be screened.
And don’t delay your colonoscopies.
“Delays in screening could lead to a delayed cancer diagnosis,” said Dr. Jahangiri. “Screenings are designed to detect cancer early when they are more easily treatable, so we have better outcomes.”
A colonoscopy is the most effective method of screening for colon cancer, precancerous growths, and polyps. If an abnormal mass or polyp is identified, your physician will identify the best course of treatment which may include removing it during the procedure. Finding and removing precancerous growths during a colonoscopy can help prevent cancer from developing.
A colonoscopy also helps your doctor see other problems that may be causing abdominal pain, weight loss, rectal bleeding or changes in bowel habits.
2. Know the Warning Signs of Colon Cancer
Early-stage colon cancer seldom causes any clear or obvious symptoms, so it’s important to know the warning signs, such as:
- change in bowel habits
- rectal bleeding
- abdominal pain
- unintentional weight loss
- unexplained anemia (iron deficiency)
Many of these symptoms can be caused by something other than cancer, so get to know your body well enough that you can report changes in your overall health to your physician.
3. Know Your Risk Factors
- Age: The risk of developing many cancers increases as we age. Ninety percent of colorectal cancer occurs in adults over age 45, however rates are rising in people who are in their 40’s. By 2030, early-onset colorectal cancer is expected to become the leading cancer related cause of death for people aged 20-to-49.
- Family History: If you have a close relative who has had colon cancer or a colon polyp, you may be at higher risk for getting the disease.
- Medical Conditions: Having an inflammatory bowel disease may increase your risk for developing colon cancer.
- Race: Rates of colorectal cancer are higher in African Americans compared with other races. This may be because fewer African Americans get screened for colon cancer.
- Lifestyle: There are some risk factors you can change. These include stopping smoking, improving your diet, keeping a healthy weight, and being active.
4. Additional Screenings for Colon Cancer Are Available
In the past, one of the only ways to screen was a colonoscopy, which uses a camera system inserted into the colon to look for possible issues. New advancements allow people to screen more often using a Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) kit at home.
The FIT isn’t set to replace a colonoscopy but can serve as a vital tool for regular monitoring for those with low to moderate risk of colorectal cancer. Physicians agree, If FIT results come back positive, a colonoscopy should be scheduled.
New research shows non-compliance with a colonoscopy after positive FIT results doubles the risk of dying.
A person can receive a FIT kit by having their doctor order them one. It is recommended people speak with their doctors to come up with a screening plan that’s right for them.
Always call your insurance company before undergoing any test or procedure to determine coverage and any other questions you may have. If you are 45 years old or older, talk to your doctor about which test is right for you.
For more information on colonoscopies, or to find a physician click here.