Colorectal cancer has been in the spotlight since the turn of the millennia. Hospitals, physicians, not-for-profits, advocacy groups and even national news anchors have been encouraging people to get screened for this very preventable and treatable cancer.
The golden rule for colon cancer screenings has been to get a colonoscopy every 10 years in order to find and extract pre-cancerous polyps or catch the cancer at its early and curable stages.
For many, the time to start getting tested is age 50 because more than 90% of cases of colon cancer occur after the half-century mark. However, 50 is not the magic number for everyone.
There are several factors that can increase a person’s risk for colorectal cancer. And since symptoms of colorectal cancer often appear after it’s past the curable stage, at risk individuals may need earlier and more frequent screening. You are at an increased risk for colon cancer if:
• You have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling or child) who had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer, or if you have a personal history with polyps or colorectal cancer.
• You have Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Individuals with IBD are at a 5 times greater risk of being diagnosed with cancer in the digestive tract.
• You have certain genetic syndromes, like familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (also known as Lynch syndrome). About 5 to 10 percent of all colorectal cancers are caused by a heritable mutation – a genetic change that can be passed on from parent to child.
If you have any of these risk factors, you should consult with your doctor as soon as possible about when and how often you should be screened. According to the American Cancer Society, individuals with a family member who had polyps or colorectal cancer before age 60 should be screened at age 40 and possibly be screened every 5 years.
Lower you risk
If you don’t have any of these risk factors, don’t think you’re in the clear. Lifestyle factors can contribute to an increased risk of colorectal cancer, including:
• Lack of regular physical activity
• Low fruit and vegetable intake
• A low-fiber and high-fat diet
• Overweight and obesity
• Alcohol consumption
• Tobacco use
Beating colorectal cancer requires vigilance, so your best defense is knowledge and support. Ask your doctor about when you should have a colonoscopy and encourage your friends and family to have one if they are over the magic age of 50.
Thanks to increased awareness over the past 15 years, many of us know how to protect ourselves from colon cancer, but it is still the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the US. Let’s stop talking and start doing something to save ourselves and our loved ones – talk to your doctor about your colorectal cancer risk, encourage those over 50 in your family to get tested and start making lifestyle changes that can help prevent colon cancer.
For more information
Griffin Faculty Physicians Gastroenterology Specialists offer screening for colon cancer as well as treatments for a wide range of digestive problems from gas, heartburn and bowel discomfort to the more severe diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. For more information or to make an appointment, call 203.736.9919 or visit griffinfacultyphysicians.org.