This blog post is part of the Google+ Healthy Hangouts series on breaking and timely health news.
Detecting and preventing colon cancer is not necessarily a pleasant topic to discuss, but it’s an important conversation to have for the health of both men and women as they age, and for those at high risk of getting the disease.
Roger Khetan, M.D., and Cherese Wiley, M.D., internal medicine physicians on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, recently led a discussion on colon cancer screenings via a Google+ Hangout. They were joined by Jane Sadler, M.D., family medicine physician on the medical staff at Baylor Medical Center at Garland, and Daniel DeMarco, M.D., gastroenterologist on the medical staff at Baylor Dallas.
Americans at Risk
Unlike some cancers, which tend to impact one gender more than the other, colon cancer impacts men and women in almost equal numbers.
- Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.
- The general adult population has a five percent risk of colon cancer after age 50.
- People with a family history of colon cancer or who have a history of digestive disease are at much greater risk of colon cancer.
The Gold Standard
All of the physicians on our panel agreed that the gold standard for colon cancer detection and prevention is a colonoscopy screening.
During a colonoscopy screening, the physician performing the procedure can not only identify abnormal potentially pre-cancerous growths called polyps, but unlike other cancer screenings, the physician can remove these growths immediately thereby preventing them from ever turning into cancer.
Colonoscopy is recommended:
- Once every ten years for adults at normal risk beginning at age 50
- Much sooner for patients at high risk, including those with a family history of colon cancer and people with IBS, Crohn’s disease or other digestive disorders
- Until the age of 75, unless your physician recommends otherwise
Unfortunately, the physicians on our panel explained that many patients may be fearful of colonoscopies. The preparation for the procedure, which usually involves fasting and drinking a laxative solution, is what many patients cite as the reason for foregoing this screening.
However, as Dr. Wiley points out, having the minor inconvenience of a colonoscopy every once in awhile far outweighs the inconvenience, risk, and expense of having colon cancer.
In addition, Dr. Sadler and Dr. DeMarco explained that there have been advances in the procedure, so it’s much better than it used to be.
Dr. DeMarco stressed that the most important thing patients can do to ensure a good colonoscopy is follow their physician’s instructions on preparing for the screening, “to the letter.”
Fortunately, advancements in colon cancer detection are on the way, including a blood test being researched right here at Baylor Dallas.
Currently, there are alternative detection tests available for patients with certain risk factors or for those who refuse a colonoscopy:
- Fecal occult blood test (annual test)
- Virtual colonoscopy with a CT scanner (every 5 years)
- Pill camera that can be swallowed
Watch the Google+ Hangout below for more about these tests as well as tips for preventing colon cancer. Then, consider your risk factors and talk to your physician about screening and when to start. To find a physician on the medical staff at a Baylor hospital, use the Physician Finder tool on BaylorHealth.com.