Colon Cancer: Preventable. Treatable. Beatable.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Donald Lum, MD, FACG

March is colon cancer awareness month, and colon cancer is really worth thinking about.

If you are nonsmoking woman, there are only 2 cancers likely to end your life prematurely. One is breast cancer, and the other one is colon cancer. If you are a nonsmoking man, similarly, the 2 cancers most likely to kill you, are prostate and colon cancer.

For both breast and prostate cancers, there is no clear evidence that screening tests save lives. Whether it be mammograms for breast cancer or PSA for prostate cancer, the evidence that having these tests makes death from these cancers less likely, is not clear at all. Experts aren’t sure what to recommend to prevent death from breast or prostate cancer.

For colon cancer though, it is a very different story.

The performance of colonoscopy, with its ability to identify and remove the precursor polyps before they have a chance to turn cancerous, is truly life-saving. Recent studies have suggested that more than 80% of colon cancers can be prevented through screening colonoscopy programs, and the likelihood of death from colon cancer is reduced by 90%.

This has to be considered a major public health triumph. A common cancer prevented. We are not talking about simply detecting it early, before it has spread. We are talking about  preventing it in the first place.

No other colon cancer test does anything like this. No stool test, or capsule test, or CAT scan test can prevent cancer from developing. Only colonoscopy can do that.

Do what you can to stay alive. Make sure you have colonoscopy every 10 years beginning at age 50. If you have polyps, you may need to have the exam more frequently than that. If you are African American you should have your first exam at age 45. If you have a family history of colon cancer, especially in a first-degree relative (parent sibling or child), especially if they were under the age of 60 at the time of diagnosis you may need to have your colonoscopies at an even earlier age. Check with your doctor.

Colon cancer is common. It may be completely preventable. Make sure you get your colonoscopy when you need to.