How Can You Prevent Colon Cancer?
Not all cancers can be prevented – but colon cancer is an example of a disease that can be stopped if it’s caught early.
Colon screening and lifestyle modifications can stop this life-threatening disease, since colon screenings help health care providers detect cancer in its earliest stages and even precancerous stages.
“When detected early, treatment can begin and be more successful, that’s why everybody age 50 or older should get screened,” said Kevin Post, DO, Avera Medical Group Chief Medical Officer. “More awareness of colon cancer has not changed the fact that it’s still the second-leading type of cancer we see.”
Colon cancer remains the second-leading cause of cancer deaths.
Colonoscopy remains the best way to prevent colon cancer. Providers like Post recommend the colonoscopy since it goes beyond early detection.
“During the exam, a provider can remove pre-cancerous polyps, thus preventing cancer from developing in the first place,” said Post. “Other methods of detection can spot the disease, but they don’t allow for that immediate removal.”
That’s why colonoscopy is often called the “gold standard” in colorectal cancer detection.
When to Get Started
At the age of 50, men and women should have their first colon cancer screening. Most people only will need a colonoscopy once every 10 years until age 75. A family history of colorectal cancer or a personal history of precancerous polyps may call for more frequent follow-ups.
“When you’re in for your annual exam, you can talk to your provider about screenings you should have,” Post said. “You can choose which screening test is best for you. While the colonoscopy is the best screening, there are options depending on your medical history, your sedation needs and personal sensitivity.”
Take-home testing options are available. Talk to your provider about the availability of other cancer screening options, such as Cologuard and FIT. While many people may have worries about the procedure and how it’s performed, they should know the facts:
- Colonoscopy is low-risk.
- Patients are sedated.
- Most patients wake up and remember nothing about the exam whatsoever.
“The important thing is taking steps to have a screening of some sort at age 50,” Post said. “With colorectal cancer, postponing the exam too long could be a life-threatening delay.”
Colon Cancer Symptoms
Since this type of cancer is more common in older adults, age 50 is the starting point for colon cancer examinations. Yet American Cancer Society studies have shown a significant increase in colon cancer among young adults.
Be aware of the symptoms. Any noticeable changes in your body, no matter your age, should be noted. Symptoms of colon cancer may include:
- Bowel habit changes like diarrhea, constipation or narrow stools. Any that last for more than a few days is a symptom.
- Blood in the stool or dark stool.
- Feeling like you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so.
- Bloating, pain, tenderness or cramping in the lower abdomen.
- Rectal bleeding or unintended weight loss.
- Weakness and fatigue.
Conditions other than colon cancer may cause these signs, but it’s best to talk with your provider about any concerns.
“If you’re 50 and you haven’t had a colonoscopy, you need one,” Post said. “Take responsibility for your health. Make the call and get it scheduled today.”
Contact your primary care provider or visit Avera.org/colon to schedule your colonoscopy today.