March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so you may hear about some of the famous people we’ve lost to this disease: movie star Audrey Hepburn, Peanuts comic creator Charles Schulz, “Bewitched” star Elizabeth Montgomery, and football great Vince Lombardi. But closer to home, screening for colorectal, or colon, cancer is something Idahoans age 50 and older should consider because it’s the second-leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women in the state. In fact, 1 in 20 Idaho adults will develop colon cancer and, sadly, chances are one-third of those diagnosed will die.
Who should be screened?
Generally, everyone starting at age 50 should get screened, and screening may begin earlier if you have a family history. Even if you are not experiencing symptoms, talk to your doctor about regular screening that may pick up growths before they become cancerous.
Why is screening so important?
As with all cancers, the key is early detection — your chances of beating it and surviving are better if it is found early. You don’t have to have a family history of colon cancer to be at risk. Colorectal cancer can begin anywhere in the large intestine as pre-cancerous polyps, with no symptoms. Idaho adults should get into the habit of regular screenings, because our state currently ranks 44th lowest in the nation for colon cancer screening.
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, but above all, start the conversation with your doctor. And it’s important to know that preventing colon cancer or finding it early doesn’t have to be expensive. There are simple, affordable tests available, plus most health insurance plans cover lifesaving preventative tests.
Who is at risk for colon cancer?
The risk increases for everyone as we age, and we know there’s an increased risk for people who are 50 or older, who smoke, who don’t get enough physical activity, or who are obese. 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?
Colorectal cancer is preventable through screening, so again, start talking to your doctor about making this part of your annual check-up, especially if you’re 50 or older. Other things you can do on a daily basis to 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.
(Note: A Closer Look At Your Health airs at 6:50 a.m. most Tuesdays on KBOI News Radio 670. This is an edited transcript of the segment from March 7. Join us next week!)
- 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
- Infographic: http://healthandwelfare.idaho.gov/Portals/0/Health/Disease/Comp%20Cancer/7132-compcancer-colon-infographic-PROD-2.pdf