No one really wants to think too hard about getting a colonoscopy. It’s embarrassing, kind of gross, and it’s uncomfortable. But it’s something everyone needs to consider because colorectal, or colon, cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in Idaho and the third most common cancer overall for men and women.
Who should be tested?
Everyone who is 50 and older should get screened. You don’t have to have a family history of colon cancer to be at risk. Regular screening for everyone in that age range would mean as many as 60 percent of deaths from colon cancer could be avoided. Idaho currently ranks 44th in the nation for colon cancer screening, with 1 in 3 Idahoans older than 50 needing to be screened. We can definitely do better!
Why is screening so important?
As with all cancers, your chances of beating it and surviving are better if it is found early. Colorectal cancer can begin anywhere in the large intestine. Almost all colorectal cancers begin as precancerous polyps, with no symptoms. If the polyps are found and removed during a regular screening, the cancer can be prevented.
Is a colonoscopy the only reliable test you can do?
Several different kinds of tests are available, including those that can be done annually from the comfort of your home. There are advantages and disadvantages for each one, so you should talk to your doctor about which is right for you.
What are some of the symptoms?
There often are no symptoms until the disease has become advanced. That’s why screening is so important. If you haven’t been screened and you have blood in a bowel movement, stomach pain or cramps that don’t go away, or you lose weight and you don’t know why, then you should see your doctor immediately.
Who is at risk for colon cancer?
A person can look and feel fine, have no known risk factors and still develop colorectal cancer. The risk increases for everyone as we age, so there is an increased risk for people who are 50 or older, who smoke, who don’t get enough physical activity, or who are obese. People with a close family history of colon cancer also have a higher risk and should talk to their doctors about getting screened before they turn 50. Other risk factors include inflammatory bowel disease (such as Crohn’s disease) and a genetic syndrome such as Lynch syndrome.
What can we do to reduce the risk?
The absolute best way to reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer is with regular screenings starting when you’re 50. Other things you can do on a daily basis to help keep your colon healthy include eating foods that are high in fiber, drinking lots of water and other drinks with no caffeine, and exercising daily. Fermented foods help support the beneficial microbes that exist in our colons, so you may want to consider adding foods like yogurt and sauerkraut to your diet.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Colorectal Cancer Awareness http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/resources/features/ColorectalAwareness/index.htm
- Idaho Department of Health and Welfare: http://www.healthandwelfare.idaho.gov/Health/DiseasesConditions/ComprehensiveCancerControlProgram/MoreAboutCancer/tabid/504/Default.aspx
- Fact sheet on colorectal cancer in Idaho: http://www.healthandwelfare.idaho.gov/Portals/0/Health/Disease/Comp%20Cancer/ColorectalCancerinIdaho9_2014.pdf
- Infographic: http://healthandwelfare.idaho.gov/Portals/0/Health/Disease/Comp%20Cancer/7132-compcancer-colon-infographic-PROD-2.pdf