Colorectal cancer screenings key for prevention
Colorectal (Colon) cancer often flies under the radar with attention given to cancers of the breasts, lungs and prostate. But experts warn it’s dangerous to sweep it under the rug as it’s the second leading cancer killer in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But with regular screening tests, more than half of these deaths can be avoided.
“Colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable cancers,” says Dr. Lawrence Kosinski, gastroenterologist on staff at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Ill. “Lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet, along with colorectal cancer screenings, can help prevent the disease from developing down the road or detect it before it is a serious issue.”
Typically, people at high risk for colorectal cancer don’t experience any symptoms, he says, hence the importance of the screening tests. But symptoms may include:
- Blood in or on your stool
- Persistent stomach aches, pain and cramps
- Unexplained weight loss.
“Even if you are not experiencing symptoms, you should still get screened for colorectal cancer,” says Dr. Kosinski. “This is the single most important thing you can do for prevention.”
Both men and women are at risk for colorectal cancer. It is typically found in people age 50 and up, and the risk of developing it increases as you age, Dr. Kosinski says. If you have any of the following risk factors, according to the American Cancer Society, your chances of colorectal cancer rise considerably:
- You or a close relative have had colorectal polyps or colon cancer.
- You have family members with other cancers like ovary, breast, etc.
- You have inflammatory bowel disease.
- You have a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).
Why Screenings Help
If you’re 50 or over, getting a colorectal cancer screening test can save your life, Dr. Kosinski says. Colorectal cancer typically starts as polyps in the colon or rectum. Over time, some polyps can develop into cancer. Screening tests find polyps that can then be removed before they become cancerous. On top of that, the tests can detect colorectal cancer itself. The earlier it’s caught, the better the chances of beating it, he says.
“Although many patients are apprehensive and uncomfortable about screening tests, they are vital to detect colorectal cancer as well as polyps that could become cancerous,” Dr. Kosinski says. ”People over age 50, especially those with risk factors for colorectal cancer, should make screening tests a priority.”
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