Colon Cancer: Understanding the basics

colon-cancer-030215Cancer of the colon, also known as the large bowel, is a common – and lethal – disease.

It is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Yet it is preventable.

Approximately 150,000 new cases of colon cancer are diagnosed each year leading to more than 55,000 deaths.

How does colon cancer develop?

Most colon cancers start as small growths in the colon called polyps, which produce no symptoms.

It takes more than 10 years for a benign polyp to develop into cancer. This slow rate of growth allows doctors to remove polyps before they become cancer.

How is screening for colon cancer performed?

Screening for colon and rectum cancer means looking for cancer or polyps in individuals who have no symptoms. For those with a family history of colon cancer or polyps, consider beginning screening before age 50. Screening identifies polyps and allows their removal; it also detects cancers earlier, resulting in cancer prevention as well as early diagnosis.

Since over 90 percent of colon cancer occurs in persons over 50 years of age, current recommendations are to begin screening at age 50. Once polyps are detected and removed, colonoscopy is repeated every 3 to 10 years depending on the number, size, and type of polyps present.

Colonoscopy is considered the best screening test for colon cancer. A colonoscopy takes approximately 20 minutes. It is typically performed with intravenous sedation and is pain free and can save your life.

How effective is colon cancer screening?

In large well-designed clinical studies, screening has been shown to reduce the occurrence of colon cancer, as well as deaths related to this disease.

Additional Resources

Five simple steps to prevent colon cancer

Saving lives 20 minutes at a time

-By Dr. Waqar Qureshiprofessor of medicine and clinical director, gastroenterology at Baylor College of Medicine and also a member of the NCI designated Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center.

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