Chadwick Boseman, Ronald Reagan, Audrey Hepburn, Sharon Osborne. What do all these celebrities have in common? Colon cancer.
Some were fortunate enough to have had their colon cancer found early and survived, some passed away from it. Boseman, diagnosed with colon cancer at age 39, highlights the more recent trend of colon cancer in younger people.
Often people only pay attention to a disease when a family member or friend has it, or when a celebrity draws attention to it. However, colon cancer is actually the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women combined in the United State. It is much more prevalent than many realize.
Unlike some other cancers, we have a very effective tool for prevention and diagnosis of colon cancer. Colonoscopy. I know, you don’t want to have “the dreaded colonoscopy” done, but it’s not that bad, I promise! The colon preps have become more palatable and lower in volume. On colonoscopy day, you take a nap with sedation and then it’s over. Not so bad, right? Considering colonoscopy is the most effective way to find colon cancer, and to remove colon polyps before they become cancerous, colonoscopy seems a small inconvenience overall.
“I feel fine, I have no symptoms.”
“No one in my family has colon cancer.”
“I’ll do a colonoscopy if I have issues.”
“I’ll wait until COVID is over.”
All of these are statements gastroenterologists (GI doctors) hear on a daily basis when we tell you that you are due for screening colonoscopy. But none of these things exclude you from needing a screening colonoscopy when you are due. You could have a colon cancer or precancerous colon polyp without any symptoms. Often by the time you have symptoms of colon cancer, it has already spread and is more difficult to treat.
However, you can’t get a screening colonoscopy whenever you want. There are guidelines GI doctors follow in regards to when you are due for a screening colonoscopy. Recently, the guidelines have changed in that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force joined the American Cancer Society in recommending people start getting average risk screening colonoscopy at age 45, rather than age 50 as it had been for many years. This is because recent studies have shown that people are getting colon cancer younger. Why?
No one knows for sure, but GI doctors and researchers are looking for answers.
So, what are some of the symptoms of colon cancer? A change in bowel habits. Bloody stools. Abdominal pain. Unexplained weight loss. Yes, all these symptoms could be something besides colon cancer. Like not enough fiber causing constipation, hemorrhoids causing bleeding, diverticulitis causing abdominal pain, or another medical issue causing weight loss. When having symptoms though, it is important for you to see a GI doctor who can determine if colonoscopy is needed. In most of these cases, especially when symptoms occur together, colonoscopy is the diagnostic test of choice to find out what is wrong, and most specifically evaluate for colon cancer.
Rya Kaplan, M.D., is a board-certified gastroenterologist at East Cooper GI. She has an office on Daniel Island. For more information, visit EastCooperGI.com or call 843-936-5970.