As we head into the last couple of days of February, there’s another reason besides rising temperatures to welcome March – it’s National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and it’s a good time to figure out when you should be screened. Getting screened for colorectal, or colon, cancer is something Idahoans age 50 and older should consider because it is 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, around a third of those diagnosed will die.
Who should be screened?
Generally, everyone should get screened starting at age 50. You should discuss it with your medical provider. If you have a family history, screening could begin at a younger age. Regardless, Idaho adults should get into the habit of regular screenings.
Why is screening so important?
As with all cancers, the key is early detection — your chances of beating the disease 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.
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, have the conversation with your doctor. It’s also important to know that preventing colon cancer or finding it early doesn’t have to be expensive. There are simple, affordable tests available, and most health insurance plans cover the life-saving, 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?
Besides getting screened regularly if you are 50 or older, you can keep your colon healthy by eating foods that are high in fiber, drinking lots of water and other drinks with no caffeine, and exercising daily.
- 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