Colon cancer is one of the most common cancers, but also one of the most preventable. There are many colon cancer prevention strategies available that help doctors diagnose and treat it early. Despite this, it’s still the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States after lung cancer.
Colon cancer forms when cells in your colon or rectum begin dividing uncontrollably. The abnormal cells grow into polyps where cancer will form. But the process can take as many as 10 to 15 years, which is why regular screenings are critical.
Screenings can detect polyps and other signs of colon cancer in its early stages. If polyps are discovered, they can be removed even before they become cancerous. Let’s look at some of the colon cancer prevention screenings that are available and which one may be right for you.
Standard Colonoscopy: A colonoscopy is a very reliable way to detect cancerous polyps. A flexible fiber-optic instrument is used to examine your colon. The colonoscope contains a tiny video camera that sends images to an external monitor so your doctor can study the inside of your colon.
If polyps are discovered, they’ll be removed during the procedure and biopsies will be performed to determine if they’re cancerous.
Colonoscopies are performed while you’re sedated, so they’re not painful. It typically takes 30 to 60 minutes to complete.
Virtual Colonoscopy: This screening method is also called computed tomographic (CT) colonography and is much less invasive. It’s performed by using special X-ray equipment (a CT scanner) to produce a series of pictures of your colon and rectum from outside the body. The computer produces detailed images that can show polyps and other abnormalities.
If polyps are discovered, a standard colonoscopy will be scheduled to remove them.
Sigmoidoscopy: In this test, the rectum and sigmoid colon are examined using a sigmoidoscope, which is a flexible, lighted tube with a lens for viewing and a tool for removing tissue.
The difference between this procedure and a standard colonoscopy is a colonoscopy examines the entire colon while a sigmoidoscopy covers only the lower part of the colon (also known as the rectum and sigmoid colon).
High-sensitivity fecal occult blood tests (FOBT): Both polyps and colorectal cancers can bleed, and FOBT checks for tiny amounts of blood in feces (stool) that cannot be seen visually.
This test can be as effective as a colonoscopy, but it needs to be done every year in order to guarantee effectiveness.
There are some healthy lifestyle changes you can make to decrease your risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Eat Fruits and Vegetables
Overall, diets that are high in fruits are linked with lower colorectal cancer risk.
Limit Red Meat
Many studies find a link between red meats (beef, pork, and lamb) or processed meats (such as hot dogs, sausage, and lunch meats) and increased colorectal cancer risk.
Quitting smoking may help lower you risk of colorectal cancer and many other types of cancer, too.
Limit Alcohol Consumption
The increased risk of cancer among heavy drinkers is primarily attributed to the alcohol (chemically referred to as ethanol) in alcoholic beverages.
Reducing the risk factors for colon cancer is a great start to any colon cancer prevention plan. But even if you’re considered a low or average risk, regular screening tests are the best way to prevent colon cancer. Cancerous and precancerous polyps can be found early and removed during the same procedure.
If you’re age 50 or older, you should talk to your doctor to decide which test is right for you. And if you have a strong family history of colon cancer, you’re considered high risk and you should talk with your doctor about starting cancer screening at age 45.
If you would like to take the first step to preventing colorectal cancer find a physician today.