Screening colonoscopies are recommended for everyone at the age of 50 (45 for African Americans) and earlier if your have a personal or family history of colon cancer. These recommendations have saved countless lives and have drastically reduced the numbers of colon cancers diagnosed in the US.
Why are screenings so important and so successful? Because colon cancer is 90% curable when found early and in its early stages can be symptomless. During the screening colonoscopy, your doctor looks for small growths in the colon called a polyp. The doctor will remove the polyp and send it for biopsy. These polyps are usually benign, but can be classified as a precancerous adenoma or malignant. The removal of a precancerous polyp interrupts the development of colon cancer. Symptoms of colon cancer include blood in the stool and unexplained weight loss.
Risk factors for developing colon cancer:
- Age – Colorectal cancer is more common in men and women over the age of 40 and that risk doubles after you reach 50.
- Family history – Polyps in the colon or colon cancer
- Other Diseases – Having an inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis can also put you at risk.
- Diet – High fat and low fiber diets may put you at risk, or if your diet is high in smoked and salt or nitrite-cured foods.
- Alcohol – Heavy drinkers seem to be more at risk.
- Smoking – Smoking increases colon cancer risk as well as stomach cancer and pancreatic cancer and smokeless tobacco increases the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat and esophagus.
- Weight – Being overweight and/or sedentary puts you at a higher risk.
If you have a family history or you are turning 50 you should ask your primary care physician for a referral to the Asheville Gastroenterology Associates for your screening.