Colon cancer is the second most deadly cancer in Oregon, and often develops long before symptoms occur. What is most tragic about this disease is that it is often preventable.
But screening can prevent those at risk — especially men and women age 50 and older — from getting colon cancer.
However, only half of individuals who are at risk get screened. This is why three out of five colon cancer diagnoses are made in the later stages when the disease is more difficult to treat.
Everyone over the age of 50 should be screened for colon cancer even if they don’t have a family history or symptoms. If you think you may be at increased risk for colon cancer, learn your family health history and ask your doctor if you should begin screening before age 50.
Age is the single most important risk factor when it comes to colon cancer. There is a greater likelihood for polyps to form the older we get no matter our gender. Colon cancer affects both men and women, so everyone should get screened.
Another risk factor is ethnicity. Colon cancer disproportionately affects African-Americans, who are about 20 percent more likely to get colon cancer and about 40 percent more likely to die from it. While the reasons for this are complex, the risk factors are related to health disparities and access.
Individuals with a family history may also be at risk of getting colon cancer. About 10 percent of colon cancer cases occur due to genetic makeup. If you have a close relative—father, mother or sibling—who has had colon cancer, then you may be at risk and should talk to your doctor about screening before the age of 50.
Having other diseases, such as an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, increases the risk of colon cancer. Other risk factors include smoking, a high fat diet and lack of physical exercise.
Colon cancer can be a silent killer. Polyps and colon cancer may not cause symptoms, especially at first. Additionally, symptoms can be mistaken for other health conditions. If you are 50 or older, it’s important to not put off getting screened.
Symptoms can include:
Unlike other cancers, colon cancer can be prevented through screening. Most colon cancers start with the formation of polyps. These polyps are abnormal growths that can be found with a colonoscopy screening and removed before they have a chance to develop into cancer and spread to other parts of the body.
There are several different screening tests for precancerous polyps and colon cancer. Most insurance plans, including the Oregon Health Plan, cover 100% of the cost of screening with no co-pays or deductibles. Even without insurance, low cost, reliable options are available. To find out about your insurance options, visit HealthCare.gov.
Screening options include a stool test, barium enema and colonoscopy. A yearly stool test checks for blood in the stool as a possible sign of colon cancer. A barium enema includes an x-ray of the colon and rectum that may find polyps, which is usually done every five years. With a colonoscopy, which you should have done every 10 years, polyps can be found and removed to prevent colon cancer from forming. If polyps are found, based on pathology results, then your doctor may recommend having a colonoscopy more frequently.
If you haven’t been screened, talk to your doctor about the screening option that’s best for you. Then, make an appointment to be screened. It could save your life. Also, talk to family members and friends about getting screened, too.