Many people with colon cancer have no symptoms until it’s too late. McLeod Gastroenterologist Deepak Chowdhary, MD explains the risk factors you may have and why a regular colonoscopy is important for everyone:
Here is a summary of Dr. Chowdhary’s comments:
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in men, after prostate and lung cancer. And second most common in women, after breast cancer.
In the world, there are 1.2 million cases of colon cancer annually and 600,000 people die annually of colon cancer. In the U.S. we have 132,000 cases of colon cancer diagnosed every year. Out of that, about 50,000 will die annually.
The symptoms that most people feel are a change in bowel habits, abdominal pain, blood in the stool, and weight loss. Yet, most of the time there are no symptoms. It’s a silent disease.
If you have the symptoms, the disease may already have advanced. So the important thing is to be checked before the symptoms appear.
The most important action you can take is to be regularly screened. On average, you should start at age 50. People, who are at high risk because of family history or because they have other health conditions that predispose them to get colon cancer, should be screened at an earlier age. But 50 is the average age when they should start undergoing colon cancer screening.
The gold standard for diagnosis of colon cancer is colonoscopy. There are other tests available but they are not as reliable or effective as colonoscopy. They are a barium enema, sigmoidoscopy, testing of blood in the stool, or a CT scan of the colon, also called CT colonography or virtual colonoscopy. But the colonoscopy is the gold standard for detecting colon polyps and colon cancer.
Routine screening is done starting at age 50. But there has been some evidence that African-Americans should start at 45 years of age. If you have a family history of colon cancer — people in your family have colon cancer before age 60 or more than 2 family members with colon cancer — or conditions, which predispose you to the disease –familial polyposis, ulcerative colitis, Crone’s disease – then we have to start screening at an earlier age, which is either 1) 40 years of age or 2) 10 years before your family member developed colon cancer.
The most important test to prevent colon cancer is to get a colonoscopy on a regular basis. Some conditions predispose you to colon cancer, such as obesity, lack of physical activity or lack of fiber and vitamin D in your diet.
Have a question? Ask a Cancer Specialist.