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The Importance of Getting Screened for Colon Cancer

Turning 50 signifies a very important milestone in your life. Not only have you reached the half century mark, you have also reached the age in which getting screened for colorectal cancer (colon cancer) at regular intervals is an absolute necessity.

Colon cancer occurs when the cells in the colon or rectum become abnormal and divide without control, which can lead to the formation of a tumor. Colon cancer cells can invade and destroy the tissues around them and can even spread to form new tumors in other parts of the body. It is the third most common type of non-skin cancer in men and women. It is also the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States following lung cancer. By all accounts, colon cancer is very serious and dangerous disease, but catching it early can greatly improve your chances of undergoing a successful treatment.

Screening for Colon Cancer:

Screenings can allow patients to detect abnormalities when they are not experiencing any symptoms. In some cases screenings allow doctors to detect a polyp in the colon or rectum before it has a chance to develop into cancer. By removing polyps in the colon and rectum, colon cancer can be prevented from developing.

The following characteristics increase the risk of an individual getting colon cancer. When several of these factors are present, the risk is increased substantially.

Family history of colon cancer: If one of your primary family members (i.e. parent, brother or sister) has had colon cancer, or if the cancer occurred at an early age in one of your family member’s lives, you are at a greater risk of being diagnosed with colon cancer and should begin receiving regular screenings before reaching the age of 50.

Prior colorectal cancer or polyps: Individuals who have previously had colorectal cancer also have a greater risk of developing new colorectal cancer.

Age: As you age past 50 your risk continues to increase.

Lifestyle: The lifestyle you lead can have an impact on increasing your risk of colorectal cancer, including a diet high in fat and meat and low in fiber. A sedentary lifestyle can also put you at a higher risk.

Inflammatory bowel disease: People with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis have a greater risk of colon cancer. The amount of inflamed colon and the duration of the disease determine the level of increased risk.

Factors that may decrease risk:

Calcium intake: Taking calcium supplements, or eating high calcium diets, lowers the risk of developing cancer.

Anti-inflammatory medications: Ingesting aspirin, ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications may decrease the risk of developing colon cancer. However, there is not enough evidence to support that the benefits of taking aspirin for cancer prevention outweigh the risks associated with the side effects. Side effects include increased risk for a hemorrhagic stroke or gastrointestinal bleeding.

How often you should be screened for colon cancer depends on your risk factor for developing the cancer. If you are at an average risk, you should have a colonoscopy every 10 years starting at age 50. People with a greater risk should undergo a colonoscopy earlier in life. Receiving preventative screenings are crucial to detection and may be the most important step you take in ensuring your continued health.

* As with all medical suggestions and advice, you should be sure to consult your personal physician for recommendations as they pertain to your care and not rely on material provided herein.

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