Precautionary Colon Cancer Screening Can Save Your Life
Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Wed., Dec. 12, 2007
By Dr. Paul Reif
"DO I REALLY need to get a colonoscopy?" my patient asked with a grimace. Bob (not his real name) had recently turned 50, the recommended age to start checking most people for colon cancer.
"It could save your life," I told him, explaining that colonoscopies are one of the best ways to detect early colon cancer, which is the second most common cause of cancer death, after lung cancer, among men, and the third most common, after breast cancer, among women.
Fortunately, colon cancer is preventable and curable through screening, which is the early detection and removal of polyps (small growths that can become cancerous).
Who's at risk?
Colon cancer screening is recommended for everyone over the age of 50, but people with a parent, sibling or child that had colon cancer are at greater risk and should get screened earlier.
Many people with colon cancer won't have abdominal pain or abnormal stools, but some may have bloody stools, diarrhea or constipation, abdominal pain and tenderness, and unexplained weight loss.
What tests are used to screen for colon cancer?
Depending on a person's risk factors, the following colon cancer screening tests may be used (there is no blood test for most types of colon cancer):
Screening intervals and tests vary depending on the person's risk factors:
Though not 100 percent accurate, these tests help detect colon cancer early and save lives. If you are over 50, or younger with a family history of colon cancer, talk to your doctor about getting one of these tests.
Reif is the chief of gastroenterology at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in Martinez. Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.