March 9, 2022
March is national colon cancer awareness month. Colon cancer is rising among young individuals and according to the National Cancer Institute, it’s the third leading cause of death from cancer in the United States.
As a result, colon cancer guidelines have changed. Now, everyone should be screened for colon cancer beginning at the age of 45.
There are several ways to be screened for colon cancer. A colonoscopy is the best test at detecting both precancerous colon polyps and colon cancer. This procedure typically happens at a clinic or hospital and uses a camera to look for growth inside your colon. If precancerous colon polyps are found during the procedure, they can turn into colon cancer over time. The goal is to remove these polyps before it’s too late.
Other colon cancer screening techniques include at-home stool tests such as fecal immunochemical tests, or FIT tests, and DNA tests such as Cologuard. These tests look for blood and cancer markers in the stool. While these tests may be easier to complete, they target detecting cancer and not preventing cancer. The colonoscopy is the best tool for preventing cancer.
Colon cancer among young people
There has been a rise in colon cancers in young individuals between the age of 25-50 years old, which is why it’s important to know the signs of colon cancer at any age. Signs to look out for are blood in your stool, change in your stool shape or size, and abdominal pain.
If you experience these symptoms, it is important to contact your primary care provider. At that time, your primary care doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy. If you have a family history of colon cancer, it is also important to relay this to your primary care provider as you may need to begin colon screening before the age of 45.
In addition to the importance of getting screened, the University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Institute shares four tips for preventing colorectal cancer.
First, avoid tobacco. This includes all forms such as cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vaping and chewing tobacco.
Second, get at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day.
Third, limit your alcohol consumption. In excess, drinking alcohol can lead to an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
Lastly, eat a balanced diet. Focus on eating fruits and vegetables, and reduce your consumption of high-fat foods and red or processed meats.
Like many other cancers, awareness of signs and symptoms and screening is key to preventing colorectal cancer. You can learn more about steps you can take to keep your “bottom-line” healthy at Cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer.
Gastroenterologist Dr. Lauren Shea recently joined the gastroenterology team at St. Peter’s Health. She is board-certified in gastroenterology and internal medicine by the American Board of Internal Medicine. In addition to general gastroenterology and hepatology, Dr. Shea has special interests in women’s gastroenterology health and Inflammatory Bowel Disease.