March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month, and a landmark study in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that the colonoscopy that you schedule this month could save your life. It has long been recognized that colon cancer could be found early with the use of colonoscopy; however, the study showed that removal of polyps, or pre-cancerous growths, may decrease the risk of dying from colon cancer in half.
Considering that colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the world, with as many as 52,000 deaths per year in the U.S. alone, the fact that this number could be cut in half is very good news indeed.
Many people may complain about undergoing a colonoscopy due to preparing for it with a limited diet and laxative drink to cleanse the bowel; however, colonoscopy is the gold standard for screening. Patients are sedated prior to the procedure to improve their tolerance. During colonoscopy a gastroenterologist passes a thin flexible tube with an attached camera through the large intestine. If a polyp is found, which it is in approximately 25 percent of men and 15 percent of women, it can be removed through various techniques.
Other screening tests for colorectal cancer include a fecal occult blood test, a fecal immunohistochemical test, which can find cancers but will not find polyps, and a sigmoidoscopy, which only examines the left side of the colon.
Screening for colorectal cancer should begin for men and women at age 50. Also, if you are younger, but have a family history of either colon cancer or polyps, the procedure is recommended.
There are measures to take to reduce the risk of developing colon cancer, which include:
- Screening - schedule your colonoscopy today!
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Remain active
- Eat a high fiber diet
- Limit alcohol use
This month, make an appointment with your doctor to ensure you have had adequate screening for colorectal cancer, and encourage your friends and family to do the same.