Did you know this is National Colon Cancer Awareness month? Seems like every other week or month is named after something. However, March was officially designated as National Colon Cancer Awareness Month back in 2000 by President Clinton. So why go through the trouble of designating a month to bring awareness?
Well, let me tell you, there are lots of reasons: Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States and the third most common cancer in men and in women. But more importantly, Colon Cancer, when caught early, is up to 90% beatable. That alone should be enough reason to screen. Patients are usually quick to point out that there is nothing wrong with their stools and so they do not need to be screened. The point of a screening test is to find something before there are signs, basically to catch it early. I also get, “I am not that old, I do not need to worry about this,” or I get the opposite, “I am too old so there is no need.” Bottom line, patients from ages 50 -75 should be screened, and in some cases earlier depending on family history or symptoms. And lastly, I get “Only women get this, so I don’t need this.” Uh, Wrong! Colon cancer affects men and women equally, so both need to be screened.
Screening for colon cancer allows your doctor to check for this disease before you have symptoms. The goal is to detect and remove polyps that over time can slowly grow into cancer. Hopefully, you are starting to think about getting screened, already have been screened or will share this information with a loved one who has not been screened. So now that you’ve decided to get screened, let me tell you how. Lucky for you there are a couple of ways to be screened. Of course, discuss with your doctor the most appropriate method based on your health history. The easiest method is the FIT test. The test involves using a swab to collect a stool sample and checking the sample for hidden blood in the stool. This test should be done once a year. If the test comes back positive for blood, you should undergo a colonoscopy. The other screening method is to go straight to a colonoscopy, which is a more involved procedure using a camera to view the entire colon. If everything comes back normal on your colonoscopy, you do not need to repeat the test for 10 years in most cases.
For doctors, there is nothing more depressing than seeing a patient with advanced colon cancer, meaning one that has spread. Depressing, because had this patient been screened there is a good chance that the cancer would have been detected earlier, treated sooner or even better not have even become a cancer.
We know deaths from colorectal cancer have decreased with the use of colonoscopies and FIT tests (American Ca Society) Our challenge is to get everyone screened who needs to be so that Colon Cancer is no longer the second leading cause of cancer death and the third most common cause of cancer in men and women. Please get screened today and spread the message.