March is colon cancer awareness month, and it’s a serious matter.
Colon cancer is considered the second most deadly cancer next to lung cancer. Its reach, generally affecting approximately 136,000 people each year, and more than one-third of whom will likely die from it.
The good news is colon cancer is preventable. In fact, if discovered soon enough, it is considered the most preventable form of cancer around.
According to Dr. Robert McCallum, section head of the Oro Valley Hospital’s Department of Gastroenterology, more people are beginning to be proactive about receiving screenings.
“Studies have proven that colon cancer is going down,” he said. “Sixty percent of eligible people now get screened. Seven years ago, only 30 percent were getting screened. By 2018, 80 percent of eligible people will be getting screened.”
It is recommended that people first be screened at age 50, or age 45 if African American. Nine out of 10 cases arise in people over the age of 50. Colon cancer affects men and women equally.
If considered a high-risk candidate, such as someone with family ties to colon cancer, follow-up screening should be performed every five years. Lower risk patients should be rescreened every 10 years.
According to predictions from the American Cancer Society, the amount of cases over the last 20 years have shown a downward trend, a pattern that is expected to continue. But that shouldn’t overshadow the deadliness of the disease if it is left unchecked or discovered too late.
“If found early, in stage one of development, 90 percent will survive,” said McCallum. “By stage three, 70 percent will survive. If found in stage four, the survival rate is only 13 percent.”
While more people are being screened these days, many of them are doing it too late, resulting in an estimated 50,000 deaths per year.
According to McCallum, many people choose not to be screened because of the fear that colonoscopies are painful and uncomfortable. As technology continues to improve, however, that mind frame is less and less accurate.
“I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years, and in that time, the procedure has improved so much,” said McCallum.
There are many symptoms associated with colon cancer, but the most common include weight loss, change in bowel pattern, anemia, rectal bleeding, and abdominal pain.
Sometimes, though, the cancer arrives quietly.
“Many people won’t have any symptoms,” said McCallum. “Often this form of cancer hides out undetected until later stages, highlighting the importance of early detection.”
While there is no way to completely prevent colon cancer, folic acid, regular exercise, a healthy diet consisting of fruits and vegetables, are some of the ways to reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim.
Obesity, physical inactivity, tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption, and a fatty diet are linked to increased odds of colon cancer.
Treatment, which is generally surgical, has also seen similar advancements that make procedures less invasive.
There are currently one million colon cancer survivors in the United States.