Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is one of the most preventable diseases, yet it remains the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, with 50,000 reported last year. Despite medical expert recommendations, many people choose to avoid a quick, relatively painless, life saving test for the dreaded disease.
The American Cancer Society reports that more than 145,000 people are diagnosed each year with colon and rectal cancer—and men and women are equally at risk. The good news is that in recent years, the incidence rate of colon cancer has decreased, as has the death rate. Decreases have largely been credited to early screening tests such as colonoscopies and sigmoidoscopies.
The easiest way to prevent colon cancer is to get a screening.
"When colon cancer is diagnosed early and treatment begins immediately, the chances of survival are excellent," reports Rajinder Kaushal, MD, Gastroenterology and Laboratory Services Medical Director at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital. "Most colon cancers begin as small, benign growths called polyps. If not removed, the polyps can grow larger and may turn into cancer, hence the importance of early detection as prevention."
Symptoms of colon cancer can vary, but the most common symptom is rectal bleeding. However, a person may experience no symptoms at all.
"The best screening test is a colonoscopy, which we routinely perform at Henry Mayo's GI lab as an outpatient procedure," explained Dr. Kaushal. "The patient is sedated, and as such, there's very little discomfort during the procedure, which takes about 20 minutes. Many patients tell us the worst part is worrying about it rather than the actual procedure."
It is recommended that people start screening at age 50 as colon cancer is more likely to occur as people age; however, persons with increased risk for colon and rectal cancer (individuals with a personal history of polyps or a family history of colon cancer) should be screened earlier.
A diet high in fat and calories and low in fruits and fiber, and a sedentary lifestyle may also be associated with an increased risk.
In addition to screenings, the American Cancer Society suggests the following tips may help to lower the risk of developing colon cancer:
- Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grain foods (high fiber diet)
- Limit intake of high-fat foods
- Participate in 45 to 60 minutes of physical activity 5 or more days each week
- Stop smoking
- Maintain a healthy body weight
To locate a physician who can provide more information on colon cancer screenings and prevention, call Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital's physician referral Line at 661-253-8888 or visit www.scvdocs.com