…colon cancer. And it is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month.

The mention of anything with the word colon often brings up notions of ‘I don’t want to talk about this,” or ‘Do I have to worry about this?” or ‘I’m not going through that process.”

The response typically varies depending on your age or if you have exposure to someone close to you who has suffered from colon cancer.  However, considering that, for both men and women, colon cancer is the second-leading cancer killer in the US, our attention to this matter is crucial.

Colonoscopy: Removal of a polyp. Photo courtesy of russellhavranekmd.com

All people who are 50 years and older and go to the doctor’s should have heard that it is time to screen for colon cancer with the use of one of three tests: colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, or a FOBT/FIT which is basically a test that checks for blood in your stool.

All are considered effective in finding cancer early. If you have a family history of colon cancer then you should have heard, it’s even more important that you get screened early. Which test is best for you can determined by a conversation with you health care professional.  While all are approved screening tests, the colonoscopy is the gold standard.

Why? During a colonoscopy the physician or gastroenterologists, can see the colon (the large intestine) and rectum in its entirety.  They are looking for polyps that are growths of different shapes and sizes that are precancerous and are the points were all colon cancers begin. If polyps are seen, then can be removed at the same time of doing the colonoscopy.

Removal of the precancerous polyp is why colon cancer is considered preventable; up to 40% preventable.  There is really no other cancer that you can prevent in the same way.   Colon cancer progresses fairly slowly as compared to other cancers; taking about 10 years for a precancerous polyp to become cancerous.  This is the reason the recommendation for a colonoscopy is every 10 years.

Not everyone feels comfortable with getting a colonoscopy or a flexible sigmoidoscopy though, but as mentioned before, there is another option for initially screening called the FIT test, which is considered 95% accurate.

This test needs to be done every year and is pretty simple to administer.  So simple that in some parts of the country the test is mailed to the home, instructions are provided on how to collect your stool sample, and then you place it back in the mail to be sent to a lab and analyzed.  The test is looking for traces of blood in your stool.

One very important note when using the FIT test is that if it does test positive in the lab, a colonoscopy is the next line of treatment to look for polyps so that they can be removed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 90% of people live 5 or more years when cancer is found early. Unfortunately though, enough people are still not getting a screened; almost 1 in 3 adults did not.

Communities of color and low-income communities are less likely to be screened in many places in the US, and therefore at greater risk for getting colon and rectal cancers and potentially dying too soon. Of those who are not getting tested, it is not always for reasons related to not having insurance or a regular doctor.

For those who have never been screened, there may be misconceptions and fears about the test or it was never recommended.  It is important for you and your healthcare provider to consider all of the options available for testing.  While factors related to both what you eat and exercising play a significant role in preventing colon cancer, remember and share with your family and friends that colon cancer “tests saves lives”.

Dr. Aletha Maybank is a Pediatrician Board Certified in Preventive Medicine/Public Health. You can learn more about her at www.dralethamaybank.com and follow her on Twitter at @DrAlethaMaybank.


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