Colon Cancer Screening: Lisa Alvarez, M.D.
What Is Colon Cancer?
Colon cancer is cancer that originates from the colon (also known as the large intestine).
What Are the Symptoms?
Symptoms can include abdominal pain, change in bowel habits, blood in the stool, anemia, or low blood levels, or possibly no symptoms at all.
What Are Risk Factors for Colon Cancer?
The biggest risk factor is increasing age. At least 90% of colon cancer is diagnosed in people over 45 years or older. Lifestyle risk factors include lack of physical activity, low fruit and vegetable intake, a diet low in fiber and high in fat, being overweight or obese, alcohol use and smoking. Other risks for colon cancer include a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, a family history of colon cancer or hereditary colon cancers. If you have a family history of colon cancer or colon polyps, you should discuss this with your doctor as you may have an increased risk for colon cancer. Are you at risk?
How Common Is Colon Cancer?
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancerrelated death in the United States. Colon cancer is found equally in males and females. In females, colon cancer is the third most common cancer following breast cancer and lung cancer.
Can Colon Cancer Be Prevented?
Colon cancer can largely be prevented by doing routine screening to detect and remove precancerous polyps. Polyps are small clumps of cells that can grow on the lining of the colon wall. Most of these polyps are benign but over time they can grow and turn into cancer. By removing these polyps early cancer can be prevented. Routine screening can also find colon cancer in earlier stages where treatments can be curative.
How Can I Be Screened for Colon Cancer?
Colon cancer screening starts at age 45 years old with regular screening intervals until the age of 75. If you have a family history of colon cancer you may need to start sooner than age 45 and may need shorter screening intervals. Gastroenterologists are physician specialists that perform colon cancer screening with a procedure called a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is a procedure in which a small flexible tube with a camera at the end is inserted into the large intestine to visualize the lining of the colon and look for colon polyps. If a polyp is detected the polyp can be removed during the procedure eliminating the risk of future growth.
If you are 45 years old and have not started colon cancer screening talk with your doctor to find out how to get started.