It’s reassuring to know that as long as you get recommended colon cancer screening tests you will most likely avoid colon cancer. That’s because colon cancer starts out as a benign polyp in your colon. Once removed, your cancer risk at that site is gone.
Screening tests don’t usually treat problems they only detect problems. An exception is a colonoscopy—colonoscopies allow physicians to both detect suspicious polyps and remove them all in the same visit.
“When I find adenomatous polyps during a colonoscopy I remove them right then and there,” said a TMH Medical Clinic provider.
Colonoscopies are not necessarily pleasant, but they save lives and only need to be done every 10 years for adults 50 years and over of average risk with normal results.
“Patients often find the bowel prep the night before the hardest part. Fortunately, that’s been improved some over the past, when patients had to drink two gallons of fluid that tasted unpleasant. Now, the amount is less and the flavor is more palatable,” a TMH Medical Clinic provider said.
Federal and state laws, including the Affordable Care Act, mandate that colonoscopies (as screening tests) be covered by insurance. Both Medicaid and Medicare cover the procedure.
For a colonoscopy, patients are put under “twilight” anesthesia. Typically, the procedure takes 30 minutes or less but can take an hour or longer if polyps are found and need to be removed.
“There are three things we know about colon cancer. The first is that the risk goes up after age 50. The second is all cancer starts off as polyps. The third is you can have colon polyps and even colon cancer and not know it until it is very advanced. That’s why we recommend colon cancer screenings,” said a TMH Medical Clinic provider.
Besides a colonoscopy, there are other screening options including a sigmoidoscopy that looks at just the lower part of the colon. There are also stool tests: the Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) or the fecal immunochemical test (FIT) check for blood in the stool. The FOBT is a good test, but it can create false positives if blood is present for other reasons, such as hemorrhoids, certain medicines or even eating beef the night before.
Family history is a big player in increasing risk for colon cancer, as are certain conditions including ulcerative colitis. Colon cancer strikes more men than women and accounts for about 9% of all cancer deaths.
There are ways to reduce your risk. The biggest is eating a high-fiber diet. Exercising and decreasing obesity helps lower your risk for colon and other cancers.
“In this day and age there is no reason for people to get colon cancer. If everyone gets screened as we recommend we could prevent well over 90% of colon cancer cases,” a TMH Medical Clinic provider concluded.