Colon cancer is extremely prevalent in the U.S. – 1 in 20 Americans will be diagnosed with colon cancer in their lifetimes. According to research, colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the country. Colon cancer is often diagnosed at a very late stage due to the lack of symptoms – which is why it’s often referred to as a “silent killer”.
It is important for you to know that there ARE things you can do to reduce your risk and ensure early detection of serious colorectal issues like colon cancer. While there are many factors that can contribute to your risk of colon cancer, there are some factors that are within your control. For example, being obese or overweight along with a lack of physical activity has a strong correlation with colon cancer. According to American Cancer Society, long-term smokers have a 30-50% greater risk of developing colon cancer compared to non-smokers. Heavy alcohol use is also linked to development of colon cancer. It is also recommended to eat less red meat and processed meats, which have been linked with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
Of course, there are certain risk factors that are uncontrollable, like having the gene associated with colon cancer, having a family history of the disease, age, race or ethnic background, and certain conditions like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. This is why screening colonoscopies are recommended at age 50 (45 for African-Americans) or earlier depending on your health history or risk factors. Your primary care physician can advise you on when you should start getting screened. However, about 30% of insured Americans never get a colonoscopy in their lifetimes, despite the fact that the test is typically covered by insurance.
Patients may not have any symptoms of colon cancer or have vague symptoms that can be easily ignored. When a patient presents symptoms of colon cancer, oftentimes the disease is in its advanced stages, and in some cases, incurable. That is why colorectal surgeons stress the importance of early detection. Diagnosing colon cancer at stage 0, I or II versus III or IV can be the difference between life and death.
So, what can you do? Stay fit, eat healthy, stop smoking, limit alcohol, and know your risk. But most importantly, get screened for colon cancer. Colon cancer is preventable, treatable and beatable.
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