First, the bad news: Colon (or colorectal) cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States and is expected to claim nearly 53,000 lives in 2020.
Now, the good news: colon cancer can be highly treatable and is often curable. In fact, death rates from colon cancer have been dropping steadily for the past several decades. One of the key reasons for this is early screenings — mainly colonoscopies — that catch cancers early or identify polyps before they even develop into cancers.
Who should get a colonoscopy screening?
People who have an average risk for colorectal cancer typically begin colonoscopies at age 50. People with a higher risk may need to start earlier or have more frequent screenings. Assuming you’re in good health and your initial screening raises no red flags, you should continue screenings once every 10 years after your initial screening until the age of 85 when screenings are no longer recommended.
What are the risk factors for colon cancer?
Among the factors that put you at risk of developing colon cancer, the most universal one is age. In fact, more than 90% of people diagnosed with colon cancer are over the age of 50. But beyond reaching the big 5-0, other things that put you at greater than average risk include:
- A personal history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps
- A family history of colorectal cancer
- A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
- A confirmed or suspected hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome (hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer or HNPCC)
- A personal history of getting radiation to the abdomen (belly) or pelvic area to treat a prior cancer
- Previous surgery to remove a part of your colon
In addition, lifestyle habits can also negatively impact your colon health. Most notably:
- A diet rich in red meats, processed meats, and fat
- Heavy alcohol use
- A sedentary lifestyle
What’s involved in a colonoscopy screening?
A colonoscopy is a very safe and routine screening in which your doctor makes a visual assessment of your entire colon using a flexible tube with a camera on the end.
Because the colon must be clean for the doctor to have clear view, patients are given a liquid preparation to be consumed in the 24 hours leading up to the procedure.
On the day of the procedure, patients are given a very light sedative to minimize any potential discomfort.
The colonoscopy typically last about 30 minutes but may take a little longer if any polyps are detected. Small polyps or tissue from larger polyps may be removed during the procedure. A portion of the polyp will be sent to a lab to check for cancer. That tissue will also be sent to a lab for testing.
At the end of the procedure, you may feel slight cramping or bloating for a few hours.
Learn more about colonoscopy and download preparation instructions.
Cancer doesn’t wait. Neither should you.
When caught early, colon cancer is treatable. It’s up to you to make the call that could mean the difference between years of healthy living or a diagnosis of cancer.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns about colon cancer or screenings. If you’re due for a colonoscopy, make an appointment today.