Medically Reviewed by Timothy J. Spurling, MD
Colon cancer – tumors in the lower part of the large intestine – is only the fourth most common cancer in the U.S. However, it ranks second as the cause for deaths due to cancer.
Why? Not enough people are getting a colonoscopy.
“The single most important reason to get a colonoscopy is to prevent colon cancer,” says McLeod Gastroenterologist Dr. Timothy Spurling. “The unique thing about colon cancer is it IS PREVENTABLE. No other cancer is really preventable.
“If I do a colonoscopy on someone and remove a non-cancerous growth called a polyp, I have theoretically prevented that person from getting colon cancer,” says Dr. Spurling. “Even though it still stands as the number two cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., colon cancer is actually on the decline thanks to colonoscopies and the removal of polyps.”
COLON CANCER DOES NOT DISCRIMINATE
Like most cancers — if your mother, father, sister or brother had colon cancer – your risk is increased. “But in terms of race or sex, colon cancer does not discriminate,” says Dr. Spurling. “Man or woman, you are equally likely to get or to die from colon cancer.
“In terms of race, African-Americans seem to do more poorly with colon cancer,” Dr. Spurling explains. “But I think that is likely due to a lower level of screening and that makes education very important.”
WHEN TO GET A COLONOSCOPY
“Age 50 is the time to schedule your first colonoscopy, if you are healthy and have no family history of colon cancer,” recommends Dr. Spurling. “After the initial screening, a colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years, unless a tumor is discovered.
“If you have a primary relative (mother, father, brother, sister) who has had colon cancer, you should have a colonoscopy when you are 10 years younger than that relative when they were diagnosed,” says Dr. Spurling. “For instance, if your father had colon cancer at age 50, you should begin screening when you are age 40.”
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