Colon cancer is one of the most diagnosed types of cancer in the U.S. today and also one of the most deadly for both men and women. While it’s more commonly diagnosed in those who are older, more and more cases are being diagnosed in younger people. Because of the prevalence of colorectal cancer cases in younger people, in 2018, the American Cancer Society lowered its screening guidelines from age 50 to age 45. Every March is set aside as Colon Cancer Awareness Month to honor those we’ve lost and to honor survivors, to bring awareness to the disease, and to remind people of a crucial thing - is it time to schedule your colonoscopy? Read on to learn more about colon cancer awareness month, more facts about colon cancer, and why a colonoscopy is a lifesaving diagnostic that has saved a countless number of lives.
National Colon Cancer Awareness Month
March 2020 is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month. There are many ways to show your support throughout the month. On March 1, 2020, many of those in support will wear dark blue ribbons or clothing to show support, but it’s great to wear dark blue or wear dark blue ribbons throughout the month to show support. FightColorectalCancer.org is also running a social media campaign on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with #StrongArmSelfie. All you have to do is take a selfie while flexing your best strong arm, using the hashtag. Just make sure your post is public, and $1 will be donated to help fight colorectal cancer, as sponsors are supporting the event.
Colon Cancer at a Glance
It’s estimated that 1 in 22 men and 1 in 24 women will develop colon cancer at some point in their lifetime, and it is the third-leading cause of cancer in the United States. Colon cancer and colorectal cancer (cancer that affects both the colon and the rectum) is one of the most deadly cancers because, very often, patients don’t even realize that something is wrong. Colon cancer is largely asymptomatic until it reaches the later stages of the disease. Unfortunately, once colon cancer reaches its later stages, the chances of survival are slim.
Most types of colon cancer develop from polyps, which are also typically undetectable and asymptomatic until the disease has progressed. Colonoscopy is the gold standard for the detection of polyps.
Colon cancer is divided into stages and substages. In general, colon cancer stages and survival rates are:
- Stage I cancers: 80 to 95 percent survival rate
- Stage II cancers: 55 to 80 percent survival rate
- Stage III cancers: 40 percent survival rate
- Stage IV cancers: 10 percent survival rate
Very often, colon cancer symptoms aren’t noticeable until late-stage III or stage IV, which is what makes early detection so imperative.
What Are the Risk Factors for Colon Cancer?
You may be wondering if you’re at risk for colon cancer and if there is anything you can do to take preventative measures. When it comes to cancer of any type, there are some measures you can take, and there are some things you have no control over, like genetics. Still, it’s important to know the specific risk factors for colon cancer so you can inform your doctor. You may want to have a colonoscopy even sooner than 45 if you meet specific criteria.
Colon cancer risk factors you can’t control (like genetics) include:
- Being of Ashkenazi Jewish or African American descent
- Having a family history of colon cancer, polyps, or digestive diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Having a personal history of polyps or diseases such as IBD
- Having a family or personal history of genetic syndromes, such as Lynch syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
There are some other factors, however, that you can control, mainly lifestyle decisions. These are considered avoidable factors. These risk factors for colorectal cancer include:
- Consuming a diet high in fat or processed foods
- Overconsumption of red meat (particularly in women)
- Having type 2 diabetes
- Overconsumption of alcohol
- Being overweight or obese
- Having a sedentary lifestyle
If you find that you’re struggling with diet or exercising, or with other lifestyle choices, such as quitting smoking, let your healthcare provider know, so they can aid you in making better health decisions.
What Actually Causes Colon Cancer?
While researchers and doctors can pinpoint what certain risk factors are, there is no one proven cause of colon cancer. While some gene mutations have been singled out, a gene mutation only puts you at risk for developing colon cancer. It does not guarantee you will develop it.
Colon cancer most often develops from precancerous growths, also known as polyps. These polyps can either be adenocarcinomas, lymphomas, carcinoids, sarcomas, or gastrointestinal stromal tumors. However, 96 percent of all colon cancer cases stem from adenocarcinomas, which begin as mucous cells in the colon or rectum, or both. Abnormal cells evolve into polyps, which are benign. However, if they are not removed or treated, they can become cancerous, which is the beginning of colorectal or colon cancer growth.
Colonoscopy is considered the gold standard for colon cancer detection, although there are other options available. This is because the colonoscope can remove the polyps that it finds during the examination. For example, if your physician is performing the diagnostic and finds polyps that need to be removed, they are removed during your colonoscopy, and you don’t need to return until you’re due for another diagnostic. However, if you decide to opt for a take-home stool test for colon cancer, and it finds a positive result for colon cancer, you’ll have to have the colonoscopy anyway. Patients don’t look forward to colonoscopies because of the prep involved, but it truly is a life-saving measure that can find colon cancer well before it spreads and before it progresses into the later stages of the diseases.
If you’re approaching age 45, start talking to your physician about colonoscopy. Do note that not all insurance companies have jumped on board with the updated guidelines of the ACA, so be sure to discuss this with your insurance company and your doctor’s office prior to scheduling. Some insurance offices may not cover a colonoscopy prior to 50 without other circumstances involved (such as higher risk due to family history, etc.).
Preventing Colon Cancer
No matter your age, there are many ways you can prevent colon cancer every day by practicing a healthy lifestyle. Some of the things you can do include:
- Eating less red meat
- Avoiding processed meat (like lunch meat, pepperoni, etc.)
- Adopting a more plant-based diet
- Exercising daily and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle
- Avoiding drinking to excess
- Quitting smoking
- Losing weight if overweight
- Decreasing stress levels
You can spread colon cancer awareness to family and friends by letting them know about the risk factors and how to adopt healthier habits.
If you need more information about colon cancer or would like to be seen by a physician, make an appointment with GI Associates today. We have three separate locations to meet all of your GI and digestive needs and have a caring staff on board to offer you the best of comprehensive digestive care.