A Word from Our Experts
Michael Bass, MD
Union G.I. Associates
3 Leading Ways to Help Prevent Colon Cancer
Cancer of the colon and rectum is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. It’s the third leading overall cause of death among men and the fourth among women. Factors that increase your risk for colon cancer include a high intake of fatty foods, a family history of colorectal cancer and the presence of polyps, a fleshy growth on the inside of the intestines. Eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet and getting regular physical exercise are the two most important preventative steps.
There are no symptoms for colon cancer during the early stages of the disease, when treatment is most effective. Fortunately, there are several screening tests that can detect the disease early enough for successful treatment. For average risk individuals, colon cancer screening is indicated at age 50. Since African Americans are at a higher risk of developing colon cancer, screening is recommended at age 45, in this population. Screening is indicated at an earlier age for those with risk factors for colon cancer, such as family history.
This is a noninvasive stool test that detects abnormal cells shed by cancerous or pre-cancerous lesions in your colon. This test is not the best option if you have any risk factors that would increase your chance for developing colon cancer. Such risk factors include family history of colon cancer, personal history of colon cancer, or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease. If the test is positive, then you will need to have a colonoscopy.
This is a CT scan that produces a 3 D view of your colon. You will have to do a bowel preparation the night before the exam to clean out your colon. On the day of the scan, a thin tube is inserted into your rectum to insufflate your colon and get a better view. Studies have shown that this scan might miss smaller polyps and polyps that are flat. If the scan shows a possible lesion, then you will need to have a colonoscopy to further evaluate.
This still remains the best option for preventing colon cancer. During a colonoscopy, a doctor inserts a flexible fiber optic camera to examine the entire length of the colon and checks for polyps, tumors and areas of inflammation. The physician can also remove polyps that otherwise might develop into cancer. You will need to take a laxative solution the day before the test, to clean out your colon. A colonoscopy usually takes 30 to 60 minutes. A colonoscopy is performed in a private area, and most people don’t remember the procedure because a general anesthetic is used.