Largely, one of the problems with gastrointestinal concerns is that mild, yet ongoing, symptoms may be indicative of a more significant problem. It’s not unheard of for the beginning symptoms of colon cancer to be mistaken for other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A good doctor-patient relationship involves one where the physician not only suggests screening tests, but the patient is wise about their health and inquires about them as well. The gold standard for colon cancer screening is a colonoscopy, and there are quite a few reasons not to put one off. It’s also perfectly acceptable for you to bring up the topic with your doctor. Read on to learn about why colonoscopy is so necessary, what the beginning signs of colon cancer are, and when you should speak with your doctor.
Colon Cancer Screening Facts
In May 2018, the American Cancer Society lowered the colonoscopy screening guidelines from age 50 to age 45, because of a higher incidence of younger patients being diagnosed with the disease. If you have a first-degree relative with polyps or a history of colon cancer in the family, you may want to talk to your doctor about screening even earlier than age 45. While there are several screening tests to catch colon cancer early, colonoscopy is the most reliable. In fact, if your gastroenterologist discovers pre-cancerous polyps while performing a colonoscopy, he or she can remove them before they turn into cancer. This fundamentally makes colonoscopy the only test that can screen for and remove cancer all in one sitting.
Colon Cancer and Stages
Just like other forms of cancer, colon cancer has different stages, from stage I to V. Colon cancer first begins as polyps that form in both the colon and the rectum, or both. Colon cancer can take a while to develop and spread, but as it spreads, the survival rate sharply decreases. This is why early detection is so important. A patient diagnosed with stage I colon cancer has a survival rate of 80 to 95 percent, while a patient with stage IV case has only a 10 percent survival rate.
Colon Cancer Can Be Preventable
While genetics do play a role in colon cancer, particularly if you have a history of polyps or cancer in the family, behavior and lifestyle can also contribute to the development of colon cancer. Patients are advised to keep their body mass index (BMI) in the healthy range, eat a diet full of greens and fiber, exercise regularly, quit smoking entirely, and limit alcohol consumption. The consumption of red and processed meats is also strongly tied to colon cancer. Consuming an overabundance of sugar may certainly lead to type 2 diabetes, but has also been linked to colon cancer.
When to Talk to Your Doctor
It’s important not to ignore gastrointestinal symptoms, particularly if they are persistent. Some of the earliest signs of colon cancer include:
- Chronic Constipation
- Blood in the stool
- Thinning of stool
- A change in bowel habits
- Abdominal cramping or bloating
- Unexplained weight loss
It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms on a regular basis. Screening colonoscopy is a quick procedure that is usually covered by insurance, with little to no out-of-pocket expense. Of course, each patient should check with their individual insurance company to ensure their coverage. If you need more information about colonoscopy or colon cancer screening or would like to be seen by a physician, book an appointment at GI Associates & Endoscopy Center today. We offer three convenient locations as well as pediatric services, providing care for the entire family.