The American Cancer Society reported for 2010 that more than 51,000 people died from colon cancer. That makes colon cancer the second-leading cause of cancer death behind only lung cancer. One thing that breast cancer and colon cancer have in common is that both can be prevented with regular screening. That means when polyps are detected and removed, cancer may never have a chance to develop. If colon cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, more than 90 percent of the time it can be cured.
Most people may feel that if there are no symptoms, you don’t need testing. If everyone waited for symptoms of bleeding, change in bowel pattern or abdominal pain, when cancer is found it likely will be advanced. Once cancer gets past the early treatable stages, the chances for cure are less than 20 percent.
In my experience, patients have a fear that the tests are painful. In reality, most of the tests are not uncomfortable at all. For colonoscopy, one of the more common tests, all patients are usually sedated.
However, colonoscopy is not the only available screening test.
Colon cancer affects men and women equally. Most patients will have no family history. You are considered high risk if you have parents or siblings diagnosed with colon cancer or polyps. If you have a history of inflammatory bowel disease, you are also high risk. Testing for average-risk individuals begins at age 50, but if you are high risk, your exams may need to start 10 or more years earlier.
One of the benefits of a normal exam in an average-risk individual is that you may not require another exam for up to 10 years.
As a specialist in the field of colon rectal surgery, I can go on about how the benefits of screening far outweigh the risks. Simply put, screening saves lives. Imagine the impact we can have in Anniston and Calhoun and Talladega counties by helping stop colon cancer before it starts.
That is what colon cancer awareness month is all about. In recent years, many celebrities have joined in by sharing their own personal experience or promoting the month through television and radio ads. Among them are Katie Couric, Dr. Oz, Terrence Howard, Jimmy Smits, Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman.
If you would like more information regarding colon cancer, talk to your doctor to see if you should be seen by specialist like myself. Also, you can visit one of several websites, including the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the American Cancer Society.
Dr. Brian D. Greene specializes in general and colorectal surgery at Northeast Alabama Surgical Associates.