Colon Cancer Awareness Month: Preventive Screenings Are Key

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Procrastination is a powerful tendency affecting many aspects of the human condition. Not having eggs in the morning due to a delay in grocery shopping is one thing, but delayed screening for a preventable cancer is obviously a much more serious procrastination.

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March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, as it has been since 2000. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. The average risk is 1 in 20, however, if you have a first degree (mother, father, sister or brother) family member with colon cancer, that risk can double or even triple.

Current recommendations are for screening to start in average risk individuals by age 50. However, there is increasing literature that screening for African Americans should begin at 45 years old. For those who have family members with colon cancer, screening should start 10 years before the index case (family member) was diagnosed, which could result in the need to begin screenings well before 50 years old.

Why do physicians stress screening? The screening procedure, colonoscopy, has been proven in large population studies to prevent colon cancer and also to allow discovery of colon cancers at much earlier stages. Screening in totally “healthy” or asymptomatic patients is important because colon cancer, especially in the right side of the colon, can grow quite large with absolutely NO symptoms. The larger or more advanced the cancer, the worse the outcome and the more intensive therapy needed to preserve life.

Though prevention strategies are not usually considered “fun”, they are a pleasant outing in the park compared to colon cancer treatment. Unfortunately, we know that only approximately one third of the people who should be screened are getting screened.

Colonoscopy is a painless procedure. The troublesome part of the procedure is the preparation to achieve a clean colon. The “prep” involves hunger pains and many trips to the bathroom for emptying out, taking place over a 12 hour period. During the actual procedure, the patient is asleep and feels nothing. I know this for a fact, as I’ve had three colonoscopies thus far! If precancerous lesions are found, they are removed, thereby reducing a patient’s colon cancer risk.

Make the decision for prevention! You’ll be glad you did.

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