Colon cancer is the third most common form of cancer in the United States, according to Medical News Today. Does that surprise you? As a matter of fact, around 130,000 Americans are diagnosed with some form of colon cancer each year. Research suggests that one in 20 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer. How can colon cancer screenings make a difference? Read on to find out.
Colon Cancer Fast Facts
What is colon cancer and what is the most recent data on the disease? Colon cancer is diagnosed by the presence of tumorous growths in the large intestine. The origins of the disease are not exactly known, but you are 25 percent more likely to develop colon cancer if you have a family history of it so there definitely is a genetic component involved. Much of colon cancer roots also stem from lifestyle choices. Prevention methods include: 1) keeping a healthy weight; 2) incorporating regular exercise; 3) implementing diets rich in fruits, veggies and whole grains; 4) reducing your red meat and saturated fats; and 5) abstaining from tobacco and alcohol.
Get Screened, Catch Colon Cancer Early
While a colon cancer screening may not be high on your list of things you want to do, it could very well save your life or your quality of life. Research shows that 60 percent of colon cancer deaths could be prevented with a screening.
While one in three people are not current with colon cancer screenings, the American Cancer Society has reported a reduction in colon cancer rates of 30 percent in the United States in the last 10 years among adults ages 50 and older. Why the reduction? The answer is an increase in colonoscopies.
The American Cancer Society suggest colonoscopy, for early detection of colon cancer, as it is the most accurate method. It allows your physician an inside look at the entire colon and helps the surgeon remove polyps during the procedure.
Why Colon Cancer Screenings Save Lives
Unlike many aggressive cancers, the survival rates of colon cancer are high if the cancer is found early. Victims of the disease have a 92 percent chance of surviving at least another 5 years if they catch the cancer in a stage one level of development. For comparison, at stage 4, the percentage is 11 percent.
Since symptoms are not apparent until the cancer is in a more advanced state, an annual screening is vital between the ages of 50 and 75 years.
What Does a Colon Cancer Screening Include?
A colon cancer screening is used to search for cancer (even in people who have no symptoms.) Several tests can be used to screen for colon cancer (see American Cancer Society Guideline for Colorectal Cancer Screening). Most screenings are divided into two main groups:
- Stool-based tests: These tests check the stool (feces) for signs of cancer. These tests are less invasive and easier to have done, but they need to be done more often.
- Visual exams: These tests (such as a colonoscopy) evaluate the structure of the colon and rectum for any abnormalities. For some exams, a scope (a tube-like instrument with a light and tiny video camera on the end) is inserted in the rectum. Other visual exams employ or special imaging (x-ray) tests.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer?
As we said before, most of the signs and symptoms of colon cancer only become apparent after the disease is in advanced stages (which is why annual screenings are so important).
In the later stages of colon cancer, the following symptoms are common:
- rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
- abdominal pain, cramps, bloating, or gas
- pain during bowel movements
- continual urges to defecate
- diarrhea or constipation
- changes in stool consistency
- loose and narrow stools
- weakness and fatigue
- unexplained weight loss
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- iron deficiency anemia
When and how Often Should you Receive a Colon Cancer Screening?
While each individual case is different and may necessitate more screenings, annual screenings are recommended after the age of 50 years. Age is an important risk factor for colon cancer. Around 91 percent of those who receive a diagnosis are over 50 years old.
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