Colon cancer is often curable when caught early

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month. While this topic can sometimes be an uncomfortable one to discuss, this cancer is one of the few that we know is 90% curable when caught early. 

Colon cancer grows in certain types of polyps. These small polyps don’t cause symptoms and this is why screening is important.  Some facts about colon cancer:

  • Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.
  • Four of five people diagnosed with colon cancer don’t have a prior family history.
  • The risk of colon cancer increases after age 50. Current guidelines state that the majority of people should have colon cancer screening between the ages of 50 and 75.

The test most often recommended to screen for colon cancer is a colonoscopy, which is done under sedation with a scope to find any polyps, and biopsy or remove them. Most patients say they have no problems with the test itself. It’s the prep they don’t like – getting “cleaned out” so that the scope can clearly see the inside the colon. If the colonoscopy doesn't detect any polyps, patients can usually go 10 years until the next one. If there are small polyps, your doctor will typically repeat the test every three to five years.

There are some other screening options available. The US Preventive Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society state other valid options include home stool hemoccult (blood) testing.  This is the least expensive and easiest screening test. If the test is negative, it can be done yearly.  If it is positive for blood, the next step is most likely a colonoscopy to check for growths. Another stool test is the “stool DNA.” This can also be collected at home. It is currently sent back via UPS to the company that processes the sample. If negative, this test is good for three years before further testing is needed.

These new choices are good options with no risk of complications. Whatever you choose, the best option is the one that gets done!

Dr. Amy Blaising Wallace, author of this article, is a family physician with One Team Family Health in Eaton Rapids, Mich., who sees patients of all ages. Call (517) 663-4809 for more information.