Our colon is an integral part of our digestive system. The colon is also called the “bowel” or the “large intestine,” and sometimes the entire intestine is referred to as the colon.
The colon is consistently at work whenever we eat and drink. Food is processed in the stomach and then moves into the small intestine, and then to the large intestine; any waste is then eliminated from the colon through the rectum. However, over time, complications may arise because it has had to work so hard for so many years, or perhaps it has been infected.
When abnormal growths of cells occur in the large intestine, colon cancer may eventually develop. It tends to first appear as polyps in the colon, but there are usually no warning signs or symptoms – which is why a colonoscopy is necessary to prevent colon cancer or colorectal cancer from developing.
Let’s talk about what colon cancer is, how commonly it appears in the population, and what you can do to prevent this serious disease.
What Is Colon Cancer?
Colon cancer occurs when cells in the interior lining of the large intestine grow abnormally. This type of cancer is also sometimes referred to as “colorectal cancer,” because cancer of the colon and cancer of the rectum tend to quickly develop into fatal forms of cancer.
At present, there is no known cause of colon cancer. Usually, it starts as a benign or noncancerous polyp, which may or may not develop into cancer. Gastroenterologists often evaluate polyps based on their size when determining when to recommend that the patient have their next colonoscopy.
During a colonoscopy, the surgeon will remove all polyps found. This action by itself can help you avoid colon cancer altogether.
If any large polyps are found and removed during the patient’s first colonoscopy, the doctor may recommend that the patient have a follow-up colonoscopy within a year. If no polyps were found at the patient’s first colonoscopy, and if the patient has no family history of colon cancer or rectal cancer, the physician may tell the patient that they can wait another decade before requiring another colonoscopy.
Colon Cancer Trends
Colon cancer is the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women in the United States, behind #1 skin cancer, #2 breast/prostate cancer, and #3 lung cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be more than 100,000 new cases of colon cancer in the U.S. this year.
Having an unhealthy lifestyle tends to increase the incidence of colon cancer. Thankfully, early diagnosis via colonoscopy has helped in reducing the mortality rate of the disease.
Are You at Risk?
Colon cancer is more common among some types of people than others. The following risk factors may help you determine whether you are at high risk for colon cancer:
While colon cancer can occur at any age, people over the age of 50 are more likely to develop it. The average age for colon cancer diagnosis is 68 in men and 72 in women.
The lifetime risk of colon cancer is higher in men than in women. However, there are no clear reasons for the gender disparity.
3. History of Polyps
Most polyps in the colon do not turn into cancer, but some do. If you have had polyps in your colon as determined by a doctor after having a colonoscopy, then you have an increased risk of colon cancer as compared to someone who has never had a polyp. The number and size of polyps are associated with a higher risk of developing colon cancer.
4. Family History
If you have a blood relative who has had the disease, especially before the age of 60, then you are more likely to develop colon cancer. Families that have certain genetic syndromes, such as various gastroenterological diseases, are also more likely to develop polyps which can become cancerous.
5. Inflammatory Intestinal Conditions
Digestive tract diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease increase your risk of developing colon cancer or colorectal cancer.
Having an unhealthy lifestyle increases your risk of colon cancer. People who do not exercise regularly and who do not eat many fruits, vegetables, or grains are also at a higher risk.
Colon Cancer Screening in Greater Cleveland
Our medical team here at North Shore Gastroenterology offers different screening methods using state-of-the-art equipment for patients who are at various levels of risk of colon cancer. After a person turns 50 – or earlier if the person has a close relative who has had colon cancer – it is recommended to have a colonoscopy.
To schedule an appointment with our skilled gastroenterologists, contact our friendly team today by calling us at (440) 808-1212, or request an appointment now via our online form. We look forward to helping you stay healthy!