Health & Medicine

Don’t wait for symptoms to be screened for colon cancer

V. Alex Howard
V. Alex Howard

Colon cancer is a common and lethal disease. All told, it remains the second leading cause of cancer death in America. When you look at worldwide statistics, colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer in men and second leading cause of cancer in women.

A few other facts about colon cancer:

▪  Age is perhaps the most important risk factor. Anyone who has reached the age of 50 needs to be screened.

▪  Men are more likely than women to get earlier precancerous polyps.

▪  Blacks are more likely to get colon cancer earlier, which is why some major societies recommend to be screened at age 45.

▪  Lower socioeconomic status is tied to higher colon cancer rates.

▪  A family history of colon cancer may increase your risk.

▪  A diet high in red meat and low in fresh fruits and vegetables may have a possible association.

▪  A less active lifestyle may contribute.

▪  Cigarettes, alcohol use, chronic inflammation and radiation exposure appear to contribute.

So what has been shown to be the best thing you can do to detect and prevent colon cancer? Getting screened. “Screening,” in this sense, implies that you go looking for lesions without symptoms.

I would strongly argue to not wait for symptoms. Most early colon cancers and precursor lesions cause no symptoms. When patients become symptomatic, curative treatment may not be possible.

So, you need to be screened for colon cancer, but how is this done? There are several ways to get screened for colon cancer, so look into the test that best matches your goals. Only one screening option has been shown to both detect and prevent lesions in the entire colon — the colonoscopy.

For those who fear a colonoscopy, talk to others who have gone through the procedure. Ask your primary care doctor how he or she is screened. If a colonoscopy is chosen, seek a reputable physician who is extensively trained or simply ask your primary care provider to recommend a physician.

It is my hope that no one develops a colon cancer because they failed to get screened for this deadly disease.

Dr. V. Alex Howard, a gastroenterologist with Baptist Health Medical Group Gastroenterology, practices at Baptist Health Lexington.