Why is it important to screen for colon cancer?
One in eighteen Americans will develop colon cancer. Colon cancer is the number one cancer killer in non-smoking Americans. For all Americans, including those who smoke, colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death after lung cancer.
Most cases of colon cancer begin with a pre-cancerous growth called a polyp that can be recognized and removed before it has an opportunity to grow in to a cancer.
Your first step towards a healthy lifestyle is making an appointment with your family doctor. Together, you and your doctor can create a preventive care plan. Would you like to find a primary care doctor?
Who should be screened for colon cancer?
Anyone 50 years old and older should be offered colorectal cancer screening by means of total colon exam.
Individuals with a family history of one or more first degree relatives (parent, sibling, child) with colorectal cancer, or pre-cancerous polyps in the colon are at greater risk. Their overall colon cancer risk is three to four times that of the general population.
Screening on these persons should be performed by colonoscopy beginning at age 40 or ten years younger than the age at diagnosis of the youngest affected relative.
What are the symptoms of colon cancer?
As a rule small pre-cancerous polyps have no symptoms. Likewise the vast majority of colon cancers do not have any symptoms. Waiting for symptoms to develop may result in advanced cancer, which results in a poor outcome.
Occasionally, large polyps and cancers may have symptoms such as blood in or on your stool, abdominal discomfort, change in your usual bowel habit, or unintentional weight loss.
What is the best screening option?
A colonoscopy is a total colon exam that has been demonstrated to be superior in detecting pre-cancerous polyps and colon cancer. Because your total colon is evaluated, colonoscopy is more likely to find polyps than looking at only the lower third of the colon with flexible sigmoidoscopy, and/or by trying to detect chemical evidence of blood in the stool.
Visualizing the total colon can be accomplished by a barium enema x-ray exam, virtual colonoscopy by CAT scan x-ray, or colonoscopy. Colonoscopy offers the greatest accuracy and remains the gold standard not only in diagnosis of pre-cancerous colon polyps and colorectal cancer but it allows us to remove any polyps or early cancers.