DISEASES / COLON CANCER
What is colon cancer?
Most colon cancers begin as precancerous polyps found in the colon. Polyps vary in size, type, and most importantly, in their propensity to turn into colon cancer. Screening tests such as colonoscopy allow Gastroenterologists to remove these potentially cancerous polyps.
Who is at risk of developing colon polyps/cancer?
Approximately a quarter of patients age 50 years old have high-risk colon polyps. This risk increases in those with a family history of colon polyps or colon cancer. Some patients have genetic syndromes that increase their risk of cancer. Aside from family history and genetic syndromes, there are other factors that increase your risk of developing colon polyps and subsequent colon cancer:
- African American Ethnicity
- Age > 50 Years Old
- Male Gender
- Diet High in Fat and Red Meat
- Tobacco and Alcohol Use
- Chronic Constipation
When should you be screened for colon cancer?
It is recommended that people 50 years old or African Americans at the age of 45, undergo colon cancer screening. Patients with a family history of colon polyps or colon cancer should be screened at age 40, or 10 years younger than the afflicted relative. Patients with established or suspected genetic syndromes need unique or more intensive screening protocols at an earlier age.
What screening options are available?
A variety of screening options are available but colonoscopy remains the gold-standard screening modality for not only the diagnosis but also the treatment of colon polyps and cancer. Other tests include fecal DNA tests, blood DNA tests and virtual CT colonography.
Do colon polyps cause symptoms?
It is important to understand that polyps generally do NOT cause symptoms alerting you of their presence. Very large colon polyps and cancer can manifest with symptoms of unintentional weight loss, change in bowel habits including constipation and diarrhea, occult or even overt bleeding with anemia and abdominal pain.
What can I do to decrease my risk of colon cancer?
In addition to a healthy diet and exercise plan, eliminating risk factors, supplementing your diet with calcium, fibers, fruits, vegetables and foods with high anti-oxidant content (selenium, folate, carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin D) have been shown to decrease one’s risk of developing colon polyps and subsequent cancer. The removal of colon polyps during colonoscopy remains the most effective way to decrease your risk of colon cancer.
How are colon polyps and colon cancer treated?
During a colonoscopy, colon polyps are removed using a variety of endoscopic techniques. Gastroenterologists are able to biopsy polyps and remove them as they are in the colon. If colon cancer is diagnosed, various treatment options are available including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation depending on stage.