Screening tests for colon cancer should start at 50

Special to the Herald-LeaderMarch 11, 2013 

CB Health Column

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For people 50 and older, screening tests for colorectal cancer can be life-saving.

Colon or rectal cancer usually starts from polyps, which are growths that shouldn't be in the rectum or colon. Over time, usually 10 to 15 years, polyps can become cancerous. Cancer forms when cells become abnormal and divide without control to form a tumor.

These colorectal cancer cells can invade the tissue around them or break away from the tumor and form new tumors in other parts of the body.

Screening tests can reveal polyps so they can be removed before turning into cancer and find polyps with very early cancer so they can be removed and increase the chance of being cured. With screening tests, polyps can be removed before they cause symptoms such as bloody stool, pain, aches or cramps.

The most common screening test for colorectal cancer is the colonoscopy. The doctor puts a long, thin, flexible, lighted tube in the rectum and advances it through the entire colon. During the test, the doctor can find and remove most polyps and some cancers.

The exact causes of colorectal cancer are unknown but there are factors that increase the chance of developing this disease, such as: age over 50; polyps; personal history or family history of colorectal cancer; personal history of ulcerative colitis, Crohn's colitis or Type 2 diabetes; a diet high in red meats; heavy alcohol use; physical inactivity; obesity; and smoking. Colorectal cancers can "run in the family." If many people in your family have had this disease, discuss it with your doctor. There may be an inherited syndrome in your family.

People who have no risk factors except age should begin regular screening at 50.

Patients with average risk should be screened every 10 years. Patients with high risk should have a colonoscopy every two years regardless of age. Kentucky is a state that has screening laws to ensure coverage for a full range of colorectal screening tests.

Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cancer killer in the U.S. We can change this if everyone 50 and older has regular screening tests. It is estimated that at least 60 percent of deaths from this cancer could be avoided. If you or someone you love is 50 or older or has risk factors for colorectal cancer, start getting screening colonoscopies now.

Dr. Marta Hayne, a radiation oncologist with Radiation Oncology of Lexington, practices at Baptist Health Lexington.

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