Do You Know Your Risk of Colon Cancer?
March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, and a good time to ask yourself, ‘Am I really aware of my colon cancer risk?’
Everyone is at Risk
Perhaps you’re nodding right now, thinking, ‘Yes, of course I’m aware of colon cancer! But I don’t need to worry about it right now, do I? After all, I’m young/fit/eat healthy/have no symptoms/have nobody in my family with colon cancer. I’m not at risk.’
Unfortunately, even young, fit people with a healthy lifestyle may be at risk of colon cancer. While 90% of cases occur in people over 50, in recent years there’s been a marked increase in colorectal cancer diagnoses between the ages of 20 and 49.
According to a recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, people born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer compared to those born around 1950. Because this age group isn’t usually looking for signs of colorectal cancer or having colonoscopies, their diagnoses are more likely to be made when the disease has progressed to the later stages, making it harder to treat.
In reality, everyone is at risk of colon cancer. This means that while regular screening colonoscopies are essential for those over 50 (or African Americans over 45), they’re also vital for younger people with a family history of the disease – and an important preventive measure for anyone.
Colonoscopies: The Best Weapon in the Fight Against Colon Cancer
So, how does a colonoscopy help to prevent colon cancer? Simple. It allows your gastroenterologist to not only check for cancer, but also remove polyps (small growths) before they have the chance to develop into cancer. A colonoscopy will also help your gastroenterologist assess the general health of your colon, alerting you to any other bowel conditions or problems that could cause symptoms or increase your cancer risk.
The Quick List for Colon Cancer Prevention
- Stay alert for the signs and symptoms of colon cancer (such as a change in bowel habits, unexplained weight loss, rectal bleeding, etc.)
- If symptoms arise or you are at risk due to age or family history, consult a gastroenterologist
- Choose a colonoscopy to get screened for colon cancer—the only colon cancer screening method that both detects and prevents colon cancer