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Monthly Health Topics

Colon Cancer Screening: What You Should Know

By Susan Beane, M.D., Vice President and Medical Director, Healthfirst
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. The American Cancer Society predicts that about 50,000 Americans will die from colon cancer in 2015 alone.
Despite its deadly statistics, colon cancer is one of the most treatable types of cancer when it is detected early. According to data analyzed by the American Cancer Society from 2004 to 2010, nine out of 10 people diagnosed with early-stage (stage one) colon cancer lived at least five years after their diagnosis, and many lived much longer or were cured completely. That’s why it’s so important to get screened.
Most people should start getting screened for colon cancer at age 50, while people who are at higher risk for colon cancer should begin getting screened at a younger age, and/or more frequently.
Here’s what you can do to protect yourself:
• Get Screened. The two most common tests for colon cancer are the colonoscopy, which looks at the lining of the colon and rectum, and the fecal occult blood test, which checks for the presence of blood in the stool. Both are safe, effective screenings for the presence of colon cancer.
• Know Your Risk. The risk of developing colon cancer increases with age and is highest in adults over 50, which is why it’s so important for people ages 50+ to be screened. People with a family history of colon cancer are at greater risk, as are people who’ve had an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
• Practice a Healthy Lifestyle. There are a number of lifestyle factors that are associated with a higher risk of developing colon cancer, including excessive drinking of alcohol, smoking cigarettes, not exercising, eating a poor diet, and being overweight or obese. You can reduce your chances of getting colon cancer by exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a nutritious diet, not smoking, and limiting how much alcohol you drink.
• Talk with your doctor. Tell your doctor about any risk factors you may have, including your lifestyle, medical history, and any family members who’ve had colon cancer. Ask if you need to get a colon cancer screening.
• Talk With Your Loved Ones. Talk with your family and friends about the importance of getting screened. Your encouragement can make the difference in helping a loved one get the test that could save his or her life.
For more information about colon cancer, visit the website of the American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org.
Dr. Beane is Vice President and Medical Director at Healthfirst. The information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice from your doctor.

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