The Truth of Colon Cancer: Everybody Is At Risk


The Truth of Colon Cancer: Everybody Is At Risk


Hong Gao, MD, Ph.D, Gastroenterology Consultants

Colon cancer (also called colorectal cancer) is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women in the United States, and the third most common cancer. Each year it is estimated that about 142,000 people nationally will be diagnosed with colon cancer and 54,000 people will die from the disease. The lifetime risk of developing colon cancer is 1 in 18, or about 6% of American men and women. Sadly, an average patient with colon cancer related death loses 13 years of his or her life. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, in most instances, colon cancer can be prevented. If we do what we are supposed to do, dying from colon cancer would be a very rare event.

Who is at risk for colon cancer? We all are.

Known factors that increase a person’s risk of developing colorectal cancer are:

• 50 years old and older
• Family history of colon cancer or precancerous polyps
• Personal history of precancerous polyps
• Personal history of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
• Life style factors such as: smoking, heavy alcohol use, obesity, lack of regular physical activity, low fruit and vegetable intake, low-fiber and high-fat diet

Colon cancer usually develops from benign precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon. When these benign polyps are removed, colon cancer is prevented. Generally, it takes 5-10 years for a precancerous polyp to develop in to cancer. Colon cancer screening is designed to detect polyps so they can be removed before they become cancerous. Screening tests can also detect colon cancer at earlier stages when treatment is more effective and a cure is more likely.

Who and when should get screened for colon cancer?

All men and women at age of 50; earlier for those who have family or personal history of colon cancer or polyps, or who have inflammatory bowel disease. Colorectal polyps and cancer don’t always present with symptoms, that’s why getting regularly screenings are important. Blood in the stool, anemia, abdominal pain or weight loss could be symptoms of colon cancer.

The preferred screening test is a colonoscopy every 10 years, beginning at age 50. Colonoscopy is also the only test where a precancerous polyp can be both detected and removed concurrently. Alternative tests recommended by the Nevada Colon Cancer Task Force are stool testing for blood and sigmoidoscopy.

Screening saves lives. If all men and women aged 50 years or older are screened routinely, the majority of colon cancer can be prevented