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The Importance of Colon Cancer Screening

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, trailing only lung cancer. For 2011, the estimated new cases and deaths from colon and rectal cancer in the United States was 101,340 (colon); 39,870 (rectal) and deaths from combined colon and rectal cancer combined topped 49380. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least a third of deaths due to colorectal cancer could be prevented if people 50 years and older were screened regularly. Research has shown that colorectal cancer deaths can be prevented by regular screening, early detection and timely removal of precancerous polyps. While different types of screening strategies are available and comparison studies have been published, the American College of Gastroenterology, prefers colonoscopy as the screening tool of choice.

Everyone age 50 and over is at risk for developing colorectal cancer. In fact, 90 percent of cases occur after age 50. Starting at age 50, men and women who are at average risk for the disease should get screened. Men and women who have a higher risk of the disease need to be tested earlier and should talk to their health care professional about when. It is a myth that colorectal cancer is a "man's disease." In fact, colorectal cancer strikes men and women with almost equal frequency. research suggests that a broadly applied colonoscopy screening program could cut colon cancer deaths by 50 percent or more and lower the cost of colorectal cancer surgery and general cancer care.

 Those at a higher risk for the disease who should be screened early include:

People with a personal or family history of benign (not cancerous) colorectal polyps.

People with a personal or family history of colorectal cancer.

People with a personal or family history of inflammatory bowel disease — ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease. Men and women who use tobacco, drink alcohol to excess, are obese or lead a sedentary life.

A screening colonoscopy procedure involves passing a lighted fiber-optic tube into the colon, allowing direct visualization of any suspicious growths, which, once sighted also can be biopsied or removed during the same test.

The American College of Gastroenterology has adopted the following guidelines for colorectal cancer screening. For those with average risk colonoscopies should be performed at age 50 and every 10 years thereafter.

For those with moderate risk*, a colonoscopy should be performed at age 40 and every 10 years thereafter. Moderate risk individuals are those who have a first degree relative (immediate family member such as a mother, father, brother or sister diagnosed with colorectal cancer).

For those with high risk* which includes individuals with two or more or more first degree relatives (Immediate family member - mother, father, brother, sister) with colorectal cancer, screening is recommended at 40 years or 10 years younger than age diagnosis of the youngest affected relative, and a repeat colonoscopy should be performed every 3-5 years.

*A family history of pre-cancerous polyps predicts increased risk also. Screening recommendations for persons with a family history of polyps should be individualized, but screening is often similar to that used in persons with a family history of colorectal cancer.

In keeping with current recommendations by various entities concerned with the rise in cancers in general and colorectal cancer in particular, Medicare has approved screening colonoscopies in persons aged 50 and older. These recent law changes have expanded coverage of colonoscopies for all individuals with Medicare Part B. not just those at high risk. To learn more about other preventive services covered by Medicare, visit the website at www.medicare.govor call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

Written by Madhukar Kaw, M.D , Clinical Associate Professor and. a practicing gastroenterologist with Gastrointestinal Care Consultants, P.A., 12121 Richmond Ave. #424, Houston, Texas 77082

Health Information Disclaimer: The information published in this article should not be construed as medical advice. Neither Dr. Madhukar Kaw nor Gastrointestinal Care Consultants, P.A. is engaged in rendering medical advice or professional services via this article. Any medical or other decisions should be made in consultation with your doctor. Neither Dr. Madhukar Kaw nor Gastrointestinal Care Consultants, P.A. will be liable for any complication, injuries or medical accidents arising from personal application of the information acquired from this resource or questions about how the information would be applied for personal use.