March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month. It is a good time to stop and think whether you and your loved ones are up to date on colon cancer screening. Taking a few simple steps can save lives.
A startling fact is that colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States for both men and women. According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates are highest in African American men and women; incidence rates are about 25% higher and mortality rates are about 50% higher than those in whites. But there ‘s good news. Most of these cancers – and deaths – are avoidable if people follow recommendations regarding regular screening tests. In fact, here are now more than 1 million survivors of colorectal cancer in the United States.
In the colon, cancer usually arises over time from abnormal polyps. Polyps are small growths on the inner surface of the colon and pre-cancerous polyps do not always cause symptoms, which highlights the need for screening. With regular screening these polyps are can often be found early and removed before they have a chance to turn into cancer. Regular screenings also detect early cancers, when it is most likely to be curable.
There are a variety of tests available for colorectal cancer screening. As a gastroenterologist, I believe that colonoscopy is one of the best tests because we are not only able to detect early cancers, but also to identify and remove pre-cancerous polyps. During colonoscopy we use a lighted flexible viewing scope to inspect the surface of the colon and remove polyps before they become big enough to cause a cancer.
Regardless of your age, you should discuss any symptoms you are concerned about with your healthcare team. If you are without symptoms, screening with colonoscopy should start at the age of 50. You may be advised to start screening at the age of 40 if you have a parent or brother or sister who had colon cancer (or an “adenomatous polyp” which is the type that can go on to form colon cancer) under the age of 60. There are other conditions that increase the need for screening, so feel free to ask your healthcare team if you have questions about when you should be screened based on your health history.
Finding any diseases early when they are easier to treat can make all the difference so taking time to pause in the month of March to schedule a screening is great way to observe Colon Cancer Month.
The Department of Gastroenterology at North Memorial has a team of doctors, physician assistants and nurses dedicated to providing exemplary care to you and your family. Our four Board-Certified Gastroenterologists have the training and experience to offer you a safe and complete exam. Colon cancer screening saves lives. Learn more by visiting www.northmemorial.com/gi or call 763-581-5600 to schedule an appointment.