Colon cancer screenings are important
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March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Colon cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. There may be no one in the area who knows more about Colon Cancer than Dr. Wade Liston. Dr. Liston has a doctorate in Osteopathic Medicine and is a general surgeon at UPHS-Portage, and colon cancer is something that he sees all the time. But, who is at risk for colon cancer, how can it be prevented, and what happens if you have it?
A lot of the risk factors are things that you cannot control. These include family history or being a man. Age also plays a factor as the older you are, the more likely you are to get colon cancer, with most diagnoses being made in people over 60. There are also some risk factors that you can control, including high fiber diet and exercise.
For other healthy diet ideas, visit http://www.mgh.org/our-services/all-services/nutrition/recipes.
“[Colon cancer] is just like any other preventable disease. Increasing your activity, decreasing your BMI, and eating a healthy, well-balanced diet with more fruits and grains are the best way to decrease your chance of getting colon cancer,” said Dr. Liston.
BMI stands for Body Mass Index, a ratio of height to weight. You can calculate your BMI at home by dividing your weight in pounds by your height in inches squared and then multiplying the result by 703 – or just plug your height and weight into a BMI calculator online. A BMI over 25 is considered “overweight” and being obese increases your risk for colon cancer.
There are a couple of common symptoms that you can watch for as well, including unintentional weight loss, abdominal pain, changes in bowel habits or blood in the stool.
“It could be a hundred things of course, besides cancer, but those are some of the most common things,” said Dr. Liston, though these are signs of the cancer in its most advanced stages.
By then, the cancer has likely spread to other parts of the body and has become less treatable. “… the most common early sign is actually no symptoms.”
The lack of one of the early symptoms is one of the reasons that colon cancer screenings are so important. Most people are recommended to get annual colon cancer screenings at age 50. If you have a family history of colon cancer, you might want to begin getting screenings earlier. A good benchmark would be to get your first screening when you are five years younger than a first degree relative (parent, brother or sister) was when they were diagnosed.
There are three common types of screening. The first is called the Fecal Occult Blood Test, which tests for blood in the digestive tract. The test is very specific, said Dr. Liston, that animal blood, like from a medium-rare hamburger, can give a false positive. A second test, called the Fecal Immunochemical Test, tests specifically for human blood in the digestive tract. Once again, however, your own blood can be in your own digestive tract for many reasons other than cancer including ulcers, hemorrhoids, or even a split lip.
The final category of tests actually tests for cancerous DNA using the Cologuard test. While the most accurate and the most specific, even this kind of test is not perfect. The best test for colon cancer remains the dreaded colonoscopy. The bad reputation of this test might be a bit behind the times, however.
“In this day and age, with advances in sedation, and monitoring your procedure, it’s never been better, it’s never been safer, it’s never been more comfortable,” said Dr. Liston. ” … It’s only as awkward as you think it is. I don’t think it’s awkward.”
Once colon cancer is diagnosed, treatment varies based on the stage of the cancer. In it is earliest stages, colon cancer can be addressed through simple surgeries that involve removing the cancer, removing the involved polyp, or removing a small section of the colon. In the last of these cases, the surgery may be followed by chemo therapy. In more advanced stages, at which the cancer has moved to other parts of the body, surgery is no longer an option though chemo therapy can still be employed to control the cancer.
All colon cancer screening tests, surgical procedures and chemotherapy are available at UPHS-Portage, and most people diagnosed with colon cancer are able to stay in the area to have it treated locally.