Medically Reviewed by Timothy J. Spurling, MD
“The best way to prevent colon cancer is to have a screening colonoscopy,” says McLeod Gastroenterologist Dr. Timothy Spurling. “If we find and remove polyps, we prevented them from turning into colon cancer. I also have three other tips to lower your risk.”
He points to exercise, maintaining your ideal weight and taking one baby aspirin a day.
“You may have read magazines that talk about taking a particular vitamin or eating certain foods or a low-fat diet, eating less meat and other suggestions,” says Dr. Spurling. “To my knowledge, none of those ideas have been confirmed with scientific study. However, aspirin (just like the cardiologists use), exercise and ideal weight are proven.”
WARNING SIGNS OF COLON CANCER
“Colon cancer is an asymptomatic disease,” says Dr. Spurling. “Basically, there are no significant symptoms until very late in the course of the disease. And that’s why we screen for the disease with a colonoscopy to find cancer or polyps early.”
“Blood in the stool can be a warning sign of polyps in some cases,” offers Dr. Spurling. “Also, iron deficiency in a postmenopausal woman or any man can be a warning sign of polyps or colon cancer.”
COLON CANCER SURVIVAL RATE
If found early, colon cancer is a highly survivable condition.
“The cure rate is 90% five years after treatment,” says Dr. Spurling, “if you find colon cancer while it’s still limited to inside the colon and not through the colon wall. If the cancer has spread to lymph nodes outside the colon, the survival drops to 70%. And if it has spread to the liver or the abdominal cavity, the five-year survival rate is down to 12%.”
The key to survival is generally healthy men and women should have a colonoscopy beginning at age 50 and every 10 years after that. If your mother, father, brother or sister had colon cancer, you should have a colonoscopy when you are 10 years younger than they were when diagnosed.
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