March is Colon Cancer awareness month. Colon cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer in the United States and the second leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women despite having a way to screen patients for the disease. Risk factors for colon cancer include your age, race, diet, exercise level, smoking, diabetes, family history and your own personal history of polyps or colon problems. It is recommended that all people start screening for colon cancer with a colonoscopy at age 50. But if screening is available why is colon cancer still the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States?
Although screening is available, it also has a stigma for causing embarrassment, fear of pain, or that the doctor may actually find something. So people place it on the back burner. Early stages of colon cancer can have practically no symptoms and can go unnoticed until the cancer is more advanced. Symptoms of colon cancer include bleeding or blood in your stool, a consistent change in your bowel habits including diarrhea or constipation, abdominal pain or bloating and unexplained weight loss. It is important to talk with your doctor if you have any persistent bowel problems or other concerning symptoms and consider a referral to a gastroenterologist.
Talk with your gastroenterologist about your risk factors for colon cancer and decide together when to start screening and what the best screening tool may be. Based on your risk factors, your doctor may recommend that you begin screening before the age of 50. When colon cancer is found in an early stage before it has spread from the colon to other parts of the body, there is a very high survival rate. This March do not delay screening or talking with your doctor about your symptoms any longer! Take an active role in your health care, and do something to make a difference in next year’s statistics.