Are you 45 or older? Now is the ideal time to have a conversation with your healthcare provider about colorectal cancer screening. While most colon cancers are diagnosed over age 50, the incidence of colon cancer diagnosed under age 50 has increased. The American Cancer Society came out with new guidelines recommending colon cancer screening for people at average risk beginning at age 45. Average risk means you do not have a family history of colon cancer or other risk factors as listed below.
When are You at an Increased Risk for Colon Cancer?
- You have a first-degree relative (mother, father, sibling, or child) with colon cancer.
- There is a second-degree relative (grandparent, uncle, aunt) diagnosed with colon cancer before age 50.
- You have a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
- You are at high risk if you have a hereditary risk for colon cancer, such as Lynch Syndrome.
Regardless of your risk level, you should discuss colon cancer screening with your physician. If you are at increased or high risk, you should talk with your healthcare provider. You can also talk with an expert in hereditary cancers. They can tell you when you should begin screening and how often you should screen.
Most Common way to Screen and Prevent Colon Cancer
The most common method of screening and prevention is still colonoscopy. This is a good type of screening for most anyone, but it is necessary for those considered at increased risk based on family history, inflammatory bowel disease or hereditary predisposition to colon cancer.
During a colonoscopy, you are sedated while your physician passes a camera through the anus. It goes up into the colon to look for all kinds polyps -- particularly a more dangerous polyp called an adenoma. These can turn into colon cancer when not removed. If found, the physician will remove the polyps during your colonoscopy.
Getting a colonoscopy is considered a preventative measure. It typically takes an adenoma 10-15 years to turn into colorectal cancer, so regular colonoscopies ensure adenomas are removed and thus greatly reduce the likelihood of them turning into cancer.
You may be thinking, “What about that colonoscopy prep?” Speaking from what other people tell me, the prep has gotten better and easier to take.
If you do not want to have a colonoscopy or can’t have one for medical reasons, there other ways for screening. With different types of stool-based tests, a sample of your bowel movement is put onto a card and tested for evidence that might suggest a colon cancer. These tests must be done more often than a colonoscopy, but they are an option. A couple of other methods involve visualizing the inside of the colon (virtual colonoscopy) or at least part of the colon (sigmoidoscopy).
What will Reduce my Risk?
Your most important step is having a conversation with your healthcare provider to decide what the best method of screening is for you. Based on your risk, what guidelines recommend, your provider’s advice and your preference for colon cancer screening.
You can take action now to reduce your risk for colon cancer by:
- Getting to and maintaining an ideal body weight
- Exercising regularly
- Monitoring your diet, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean cuts of meat such as chicken and fish, and limiting processed and red meats
- Using alcohol in moderation
- Quitting smoking, or better yet, never starting
Take our comprehensive Colon Health Risk Assessment
to help you identify if you are at risk for developing colon cancer. You will receive a personalized report about your level of risk, and opportunities get help from our experts.