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Preventing and Detecting Colon Cancer
Preventing and Detecting Colon Cancer
According to a December 2011 report featured in the Archives of Internal Medicine, while colon cancer among adults over age 50 has declined, diagnoses among younger adults increased consistently between 1998 and 2007.
What’s worse, those younger adults were more likely to have advanced cancers that are harder to treat. Researchers found that about 20 percent of the people diagnosed in their 30s were more likely to have stage III or IV cancers, which are considered late-stage. They also found that people who didn’t have health insurance and African-Americans were at greater risk of being diagnosed with advanced colon cancer.
“When a person in their 30s has symptoms like bleeding, abdominal pain or changes in their bowel habits, they don’t necessarily think it’s cancer and to be honest, the vast majority of the time it is not cancer,” explains naturopathic oncologist and Wellness Times Editorial Advisor Tina Kaczor, ND. “If, however, someone has a strong family history of colon cancer, then the level of suspicion should be much higher. Symptoms that persist should not be ignored. Too often, symptoms are ignored or misdiagnosed for months or even years, and by the time the cancer is diagnosed, the disease has progressed.”
Kaczor advises her patients to be aware of changes in bowel habits, including diarrhea, constipation, consistency of the stool or a feeling that the bowel is not completely emptying. Persistent gas, cramping or pain should be discussed with your healthcare provider.
Presently, the American Cancer Society does not recommend routine colon cancer screening for people under age 50, so it’s important to be aware of these early signs and symptoms. For people age 50 or older, colonoscopy has been shown to be life-saving.
New research confirms effectiveness
Colonoscopy cancer screening has come under fire recently because it is an expensive test and it does come with some risks. However, new research demonstrates that a colonoscopy can significantly reduce the development of cancer in cases in which polyps are removed.
“This study unequivocally proves that screening colonoscopies save lives,” Kaczor says.
The study, which was published in the February 2012 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, evaluated the occurrence of cancer in people who have had one or more adenomatous polyps (potentially precancerous growths) removed during a colonoscopy. The researchers found that there was a 53 percent reduction in colon cancer in these individuals compared to expected colon cancer deaths in members of the general population who are the same gender and similar age.
More than 2,600 people were involved in the study, making it the largest study featuring polyp patients ever done. Patients were followed on average for about 16 years, also making this the longest follow-up study ever conducted.
“This study serves as a confirmation that everyone, regardless of family history, should initiate colonoscopy screening at 50 years of age, which is what is recommended by the American Cancer Society,” says Kaczor, who has completed advanced training in naturopathic oncology. “Those at higher risk due to family history of colorectal cancer or a personal history of inflammation in the colon should speak to their doctor about screening at an even earlier age.”
Ask your doctor if you are a candidate for early screening of colon cancer. Based on this new research, if you are 50 or older, you may also want to ask your doctor about scheduling your colonoscopy.