News | Published September 16, 2020 | Written by Qasim Salimi, MD, Mount Nittany Physician Group Gastroenterology

Colon cancer and the importance of screening: What you need to know

Incidences of colon cancer in the younger population, particularly in those below age 50, have been steadily on the rise in recent years. This was recently brought to the attention of many with the tragic death of 43-year-old actor Chadwick Boseman from early onset colon cancer. Colon cancer screening is an incredibly important tool in the fight against the disease, and there seems no better time than now to remind people of all ages what they can do to help prevent colon cancer from touching their lives or the lives of someone they love.

As the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, annually more than 130,000 people in our country are diagnosed with colon cancer, and over 50,000 of them will lose their lives to the disease. A previous report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention shows that in the United States, one in three adults (23 million) between the ages of 50 and 75 are not getting screened for colon cancer. With that being said, it is important to do all that we can individually to prevent this cancer from developing.

What can I do to prevent colon cancer?
The majority of colon cancer can be prevented with proper screening through early detection and removal of precancerous polyps. Colonoscopy is the most effective screening method and the only method that is both diagnostic and therapeutic. The procedure involves the insertion of a colonoscope (a long tube with a small camera attached to the end) under anesthesia into the large intestine (colon) in order to detect and remove small growths of tissue called polyps. Patients are required to drink a laxative prep to empty out the colon before the procedure in order to maximize the ability to detect any polyps or abnormalities. The American Gastroenterological Association and the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy recommend that most people begin colon cancer screening at age 50. For people with a family history of colon cancer or polyps, as well as African Americans – who are statistically at higher risk for colon cancer – it is recommended to start screenings at ages 40 and 45, respectively.

What lifestyle changes can I implement to prevent colon cancer?
Smoking increases the risk of colon cancer as well as many other cancers. Stopping smoking now can help lower your risk. Diet also plays a key role in your health. Red meat consumption more than once a week on average has been shown to increase your risk for colon cancer, so limiting consumption is advised. Eating healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and regular cardiovascular exercise can help decrease the risk of colon cancer. It is generally recommended to exercise for 150 minutes per week, and the choice of exercise can include brisk walking, bicycling, using an elliptical trainer, swimming, or playing sports such as soccer or basketball. Additionally, alcohol consumption has been linked with a higher risk of colon cancer. The amount of alcohol someone drinks over time, not the type of alcoholic beverage, seems to be the most important factor in raising the cancer risk. Alcohol consumption can also lead to other long-term health effects such as cirrhosis (irreversible liver failure) and birth defects in children.

Where do I go from here?
To discuss colon cancer screening options, you can contact your primary care provider, or if you would like to discuss with a gastroenterologist, call Mount Nittany Physician Group Gastroenterology at 814.278.4631 to set up an appointment. You may also schedule appointments online at mymountnittanyhealth.com. Together we can help prevent colon cancer!