Understanding Colon Cancer Screening

Colon cancer is a serious condition that is the cause of death for nearly 50,000 people every year, and it is the second leading cause of cancer death in America, surpassed only by lung cancer. While the causes of colorectal cancer are unknown, a great deal can be done to prevent its development, and early detection and removal of polyps are at the heart of this prevention.

Common Misconceptions About Colon Cancer

– Only men get colon cancer.

Colon cancer actually affects men and women about equally. In fact, it is the third leading type of cancer in both genders. Women are only more likely to get breast and lung cancer than to develop colon cancer.

– People only need to to get a screening done if they have a family history of colon cancer or have symptoms.

The reality is that several major organizations, including the American Cancer Society, strongly urge people to speak with their health care professional about a screening starting at the age of 50. It is recommended that those with a family history or medical conditions, such as Crohn disease, that make them more likely to develop colon cancer begin screenings earlier in life. The goal of these screenings is to prevent the development of colon cancer, so people should not wait until they have symptoms.

– The only way to look for colon cancer is a colonoscopy, and it is a major medical ordeal.

There are a variety of ways to detect colon cancer and find early indicators, although a colonoscopy is one of the most effective. While a colonoscopy is mildly invasive, it generally takes less than an hour and is done on an outpatient basis. Since a mild sedative is administered, most people experience little to no discomfort during the process.

– If a doctor discovers polyps during a screening, it means I have colon cancer.

Polyps are abnormal growths in the colon that may lead to colon cancer, but the majority of them are benign. However, since it has been found that cancer can develop in polyps, their removal can often prevent someone from developing colon cancer. They are usually fairly simple to remove, and this can often be done during a colonoscopy.

Different Detection Methods

Colonoscopy
Using a colonoscope, which is a tube that normally has a camera on the end, a doctor will inspect someone’s rectum and colon, looking for growths and abnormalities. Growths are either removed or biopsied during this procedure, and it is recommended that individuals undergo this procedure every 5-10 years.

Other detection methods are available which tend to change with time and GI society recommendations, please discuss with your gastroenterologist.

 

Saving Lives Through Early Detection

In spite of the number of lives lost to colon cancer, early detection and treatment can prevent this type of cancer from developing. When polyps are found, they can be removed, which greatly reduces people’s risk of developing colon cancer. Additionally, even if someone already has colon cancer, early detection can improve someone’s chances of recovery because treatment is most effective early on. It is believed that approximately 30,000 lives could be saved every year by increasing awareness and colon cancer screenings.