March is Colon cancer awareness month. As a physician and a gastroenterologist I can say with 100% confidence that Colon Cancer Screening saves lives. Colon cancer is only one of the very few cancers that can be prevented. By undergoing screening colonoscopies doctors can find and remove polyps which are precancerous growths in the colon, these polyps are what transform into cancers if left in place.
Colon cancer is equally prevalent in both men and women. It typically occurs around the age of 50 and above. However in the UAE studies have shown it to be more prevalent at a younger age. The Health Authority of Abu Dhabi or HAAD recommends colon screening in both men and women between the ages of 40-75. Colonoscopies are the most efficient way to screen for colon cancer.
Colonoscopy is a procedure that allows gastroenterologist to view the inside of the colon and can detect and enable the physician to remove any abnormal or any precancerous growths such as polyps before they can turn into cancers. What most people do not realize is that polyps and early cancers do not cause symptoms or warning signs that would alert one to see a gastroenterologist.
Other tests are available for colon cancer screening but colonoscopy remains the gold standard. Although there is a slight risk to the procedure, most people find a colonoscopy to be both painless and uneventful with the exception of needing to drink laxatives beforehand.
It is recommended that screening begin in both sexes at age 50, or earlier in certain races and nationalities. In Africans and African Americans screening is recommended to start at age 45. In the UAE Health Authority of Abu Dhabi as noted recommends colon cancer screening starting at age 40 in both men and women. In certain individuals with a higher risk of colon cancer i.e. those with a family history of colon cancer or with genetic predisposition like familial polyposis or lynch syndrome or those with Inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease screening should be individualized and start much earlier.
It should also be noted that there is increased risk of colon cancer in people who are obese, smoke, drink alcohol heavily, eat a lot of red meat or are deficient in calcium. Irrespective of age or risk factors if a patient is experiencing the following symptoms then they should be checked out immediately:
- Rectal Bleeding.
- Blood in the stool or in the toilet after having a bowel movement.
- Dark or black colored stools.
- Change in stool caliber like narrowing of stools or change in shape.
- Pain or cramping in the lower abdomen.
- Change in bowel habits like sudden constipation or diarrhea
- Unexplained weight loss or anemia