Colon Cancer: An ounce of prevention…

If you are 50 or older and have not yet been screened for colon cancer, you are taking a significant but unnecessary risk.  Colon cancer develops from a benign lesion called a polyp (adenoma-carcinoma hypothesis).  The National Polyp study in 1991 demonstrated that by detecting and removing polyps, colon cancer could be prevented from developing.  Subsequent studies have suggested that up to 90% of colon cancer can be prevented by widespread screening beginning at age 50.  People with a family history are at increased risk for developing colon cancer and should be screened even earlier.

If you are 50 or older and have not yet been screened for colon cancer, you are taking a significant but unnecessary risk.

Screening can take several forms and you can discuss the options with your family physician, but the only procedure during which polyps can be both identified and removed is a colonoscopy.  A painless examination of the colon is performed by a Gastroenterologist under anesthesia in an outpatient setting.  Using an endoscope to examine the entire length of the colon, a gastrointestinal specialist can both identify and remove any polyps present.  Tissue removed at the time of the exam is then sent to a pathologist for microscopic examination.  If cancer is already present, further treatment may be warranted, but for the majority of people, who seek early screening, the results are completely benign and the patient will not have to repeat the exam for many years.

Concern about discomfort the day before the exam, during preparation of the bowel, should not prevent anyone from seeking this valuable screening tool.  Most patients are given ½ to 1 gallon of fluid to drink over the course of a few hours, that contains a gentle cleansing medicine.  The instructions are not difficult to follow and most people complete the process with little discomfort or inconvenience.  After the colon examination, most people feel fine and have few side effects.

In 2009, almost 150,000 cases of colon cancer occurred, with nearly 50,000 deaths.  Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer mortality in the United States and affects both men and women equally.   Up to 90% of colon cancer can be PREVENTED by the widespread application of screening beginning at age 50.

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month!