March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Georgia Cancer SpecialistsBelow are some frequently asked questions with information all adults should know about the disease.

Why is Colon Cancer Awareness Month important?
Colon Cancer is a preventable epidemic that claims the lives of 55,000 Americans every year. 

Why is colonoscopy screening important?
Colonoscopy screening for colon cancer, for example, if universally adopted, could decrease the incidence of colon cancer by as much as 90 percent.

Regular screening can, in many cases, prevent colorectal cancer altogether. This is because some polyps, or growths, can be found and removed before they have the chance to turn into cancer. Screening can also result in finding colorectal cancer early, when it is highly curable.

What are the recommended screening guidelines?

  • Low risk persons without a family or personal history of colon cancer should be screened at age 50, then every ten years.
  • African Americans, who experience greater incidence and, often, earlier age of onset, should begin screening at age 45.
  • Those with a family or personal history should work with their doctors to establish an appropriate screening schedule.

How does colonoscopy screening prevent colon cancer?
Most cases of colon cancer begin as small, noncancerous (benign) clumps of cells called adenomatous polyps. Over time some of these polyps become colon cancers. Polyps may be small and produce few, if any, symptoms. For this reason, doctors recommend regular screening tests to help prevent colon cancer by identifying polyps before they become colon cancer.

Who should have a colonoscopy?
People who have no identified risk factors (other than age) should begin regular screening at age 50. Those who have a family history or other risk factors for colorectal polyps or cancer should talk with their doctor about starting screening when they are younger and/or getting screened more frequently.

How common is colorectal cancer? 
Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States when men and women are considered separately, and the second leading cause when both sexes are combined.

What groups are at the highest risk for colorectal cancer? 
African Americans have the highest colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates of all racial groups in the United States. The reasons for this are not yet understood.

Jews of Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi Jews) have one of the highest colorectal cancer risks of any ethnic group in the world. Several gene mutations leading to an increased risk of colorectal cancer have been found in this group. The most common of these DNA changes, called the I1307K APC mutation, is present in about 6% of American Jews.

What lifestyle-related factors are linked to colorectal cancer?

Several lifestyle-related factors have been linked to colorectal cancer. In fact, the links between diet, weight, and exercise and colorectal cancer risk are some of the strongest for any type of cancer.

What foods increase colorectal cancer risk?  
A diet that is high in red meats (beef, pork, lamb) and processed meats (hot dogs and some luncheon meats) can increase colorectal cancer risk. Diets high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains have been linked with a decreased risk of colorectal cancer, but fiber supplements do not seem to help.

Does exercise help prevent colon cancer? 
If you are not physically active, you have a greater chance of developing colorectal cancer. Increasing activity may help reduce your risk.

How does weight impact colon cancer risk?  
If you are very overweight, your risk of developing and dying from colorectal cancer is increased. Obesity raises the risk of colon cancer in both men and women, but the link seems to be stronger in men.

Are smoking and drinking factors in colon cancer risk?
Long-term smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop and die from colorectal cancer. Smoking is a well-known cause of lung cancer, but some of the cancer-causing substances are swallowed and can cause digestive system cancers, such as colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer has been linked to the heavy use of alcohol. At least some of this may be due to the fact that heavy alcohol users tend to have low levels of folic acid in the body. Still, it would be wise to limit alcohol use to no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.

Should people with diabetes be concerned about colon cancer?  
People with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. Both type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer share some of the same risk factors (such as excess weight). But even after taking these into account, people with type 2 diabetes still have an increased risk. They also tend to have a less favorable prognosis (outlook) after diagnosis.

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