B. Colon Cancer

What you should know about Colon Cancer

Colon Cancer remains the #2 cause of cancer death in the United States second only to lung cancer. Colon cancer causes 55,000 deaths annually in the U.S.

Both men and women are equally vulnerable to colon cancer; there is no sex predilection. One’s risk in the general population is 2%, although a family history of colon polyps or cancer can increase this risk.

These cancers rarely give symptoms. Generally, only one-half of persons with advanced disease have symptoms to warn them and at that point the cancer is not curable in most. The absence of symptoms such as abdominal pain, rectal bleeding or anemia does not offer reassurance that one is safe from this disease.

How does Colon Cancer begin?

Fortunately, colon cancer develops very slowly. Colon cancer is thought to initially start as a benign colon polyp. Polyps are wart-like growths in the colon that can progressively grow to a mushroom-like growth and then into cancer in 20-25% of cases. Colon polyps can be easily removed by colonoscopy and this process completely prevented.

Therefore, of the 55,000 people a year who die of colon cancer, generally 90% of them had a 5-10 year “window of opportunity” to have had a benign polyp identified, removed, and their cancer prevented.

Preventive Screening for Colon Cancer

Presently, the American Cancer Society (ACS), American College of Gastroenterology (ACG), and American Gastroenterologic Association (AGA) recommend that all persons be screened for colon cancer. Studies document that with screening, the death rate from colon cancer can be reduced by over 70%.

Colonscopy

Colonscopy is an examination of the entire length of the colon by a small tube with a video camera on the tip. Most polyps seen can be removed at the time of the colonscopy. It requires preparation and involves risks.

  • A liquid diet for the 24 hours before the study and laxatives are required.
  • Risk of complications is generally 1 in 1000, including infection, bleeding, or perforation of the colon requiring surgery.

Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer

There are certain factors that increase the risk of developing colon cancer. These include:

  • Age over 50
    The risk continues to climb with each successive decade of life. It is important to note that colon cancer can develop in much younger people.
  • A personal or family history of colon polyps or colon cancer. However, most individuals diagnosed with colon cancer have no family history of the disease.
  • An 8-12 year history of Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis
  • A personal history of uterine or ovarian cancer
  • Race
    African Americans have the highest risk of dying of colon cancer. Screening should
    begin at age 45.
  • A diet high in fat and red meat and low in fruits and vegetables predisposes to colon polyps and cancer.
  • Other:
    Smoking
    Type II Diabetes
    Obesity

In closing…

Colon cancer is very common but fortunately also one of the most preventable cancers. Although it is intimidating to think about these kinds of topics and discuss the risks of these studies, a simple test could save your life.

"Knowledge of self (knowing your history) is perhaps the greatest thing that you could possess. Once you know who you are everything falls into place." ~Runoko Rashidi