Colon Cancer Awareness and Screening

Updated: 03/25/2014 7:09 PM
Created: 03/25/2014 4:20 PM
By: Jessica Miles

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States for men and women, behind only lung cancer.

This year alone more than 50,000 people will die from it. In Minnesota, 51 of every 100,000 men will get it, and 45 of every 100,000 women.

That's why this month doctors want people to get screened because they say it saves lives.
The average person's colon is about 5 feet long.

That twisting, turning tube is the source of colon cancer, one of the most deadly cancers out there.

Polyps are small wart like bumps that form inside the colon, it's where colon cancer starts. They are common, doctors say 25-30 percent of people have them.

"Most polyps don't cause symptoms, people don't know when they have a polyp," says Gastroenterologist Dr. Aaron Link.

That is why doctors say screenings to look for those polyps are a must, especially for people over the age of 50. That population accounts for 90 percent of all colon cancers.

African Americans over the age of 45 should also be screened because race is a big risk factor, and so is family history. Those with a family history should be screened by at least age 40.

Screening generally consists of a colonoscopy. It's a relatively short procedure, 15 minutes, where a long, flexible tube with a light on the end of it, is passed through the entire length of the colon to look for the polyps.

"We're able to remove polyps at the time of the procedure, that's done with a snare, which is a little wire that is lassoed around the polyp and used to cut through. That is painless for the patient, they don't feel the polyp being removed," Dr. Link says.

Removed polyps are sent to a pathologist to see if they could turn into cancer. If the result is clear, another colonoscopy isn't needed for 10 years.

Because patients are given sedation, doctors say you should miss work the day of the procedure.

Dr. Link says colon cancer is slow moving. It's treatable if caught early and preventable if you're screened early.

"To our knowledge, for a normal colon to go from polyps to colon cancer, takes an average of 15 years," he says.

To prevent it, Dr. Link says limit smoking and alcohol, exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight, and eat a high fiber diet with fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Doctors say we are making strides, right now nearly half the population has been screened for colon cancer, and there's been a 30 percent drop in colon cancer in the last ten years.

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