Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the United States. It affects all genders and all races. It’s the second-leading cause of cancer death, which means it’s one of the most deadly.
But did you know it is also one of the most preventable? Colon cancer screening is designed to find cancers before they become advanced or remove polyps before they can become cancer. Studies have shown lower death rates with screening programs.
What is Colon Cancer?
The colon is another name for your large intestine. The rectum is the end of it. Colon cancer starts from normal tissue that transforms into a small growth called a polyp, which can then become cancer. Colon cancer often takes 10–15 years to develop.
Am I at Average or High Risk for Colon Cancer?
Getting the answer may require a few awkward conversations around the dinner table with your family. Ask your parents if there’s a history of colon cancer or if they had large polyps removed during their colonoscopies. Ask your siblings about their experiences. If you have colon cancer in your family, you may need to get screened before age 45. If you have a history of inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, you may need more frequent screenings because your risk may be higher.
What Are the Screening Options?
The doctor uses a long, flexible tube with a camera to look at your large intestine. If they see any polyps, they can remove them before they become cancerous. If your first colonoscopy is routine, it’ll be 5–10 years before you need another one.
A similar test known as a sigmoidoscopy is another option, but it only lets the doctor see a portion of your colon. We occasionally use CT scan colonoscopies as well, but their use is often limited by insurance coverage. The prep is the same, but the test is not invasive.
Test kits are also available that check for abnormal DNA or blood in a stool sample. If this is positive, you’ll need a colonoscopy as a follow-up every three years.
How Bad Is a Colonoscopy?
In the U.S., most people get some form of sedation before a colonoscopy. That means you’ll be asleep. It’s a painless process. The day before your colonoscopy, you’ll fast and drink a laxative to clean the stool out of your colon. There are several options for laxatives that include better tasting, smaller volume solutions than in years past.
Read More: What Is the Keto Diet & Is It Healthy?
How Can I Prevent Colon Cancer?
Screening, screening, screening! The goal is to find high-risk lesions before they become more advanced. When we find colon cancer at an earlier stage, it’s more likely to be cured, and the treatment is less involved with an easier recovery.
Regarding lifestyle changes, studies link red and processed meat to a higher risk for colon cancer. Staying at a healthy weight and exercising regularly can help. Arm yourself with information and find your family history to decide if you should be screened sooner than age 45.
A colonoscopy is one day of inconvenience for a lot of reassurance. If you don’t make time for your health now, you may have to make time for your disease down the road. Colon cancer should be preventable, treatable, and beatable. A colonoscopy is the best way to ensure your gut is healthy.