With significant advances in medical science, the number of deaths caused due to colon cancer has been declining over the past several decades. In fact, it is estimated there are 1 million plus survivors of this disease in the United States alone. And the best news is that colon cancer can be prevented! Colon cancer screening saves lives.
It is generally recommended that routine colon cancer screening should begin at age 50 and continue until age 75. Those who have a high risk of developing colon cancer based on their family history, personal history, habits (smoking, heavy alcohol intake, and red meat consumption), may need to start screening at an earlier age as advised by their doctor.
The types of tests used for screening of colon cancer include:
- Colonoscopy: The entire colon including the rectum is examined with a flexible tube that is attached to a miniature camera and a light source.
- Sigmoidoscopy: The procedure is like colonoscopy, but only the lower part of the colon and the rectum are examined.
- Double contrast barium enema: An X-ray test that uses a contrast medium to visualize the colon and rectum.
- CT colonography: It is also known as virtual colonoscopy. CT scans are used to create 3D images of the colon and rectum.
These tests can be used to detect colon cancer in the early stages and can even identify and remove precancerous lesions such as polyps preventing the development of cancer in the first place. According to studies performed by the National Cancer Institute, the chances of surviving colon cancer improve if it is diagnosed at an early stage. The likelihood of living 5 years or longer after being diagnosed with stage 1 colon cancer is about 92%. The relative 5-year survival rate continues to drop in the later stages of disease with it being just 11% for stage 4 colon cancer. Stage 4 is characterized by spread of the cancer to distant parts of the body.
A diagnosis of cancer can cause a lot of uncertainty with regards to life expectancy. Using screening tests to prevent and detect colon cancer is the best way to improve the odds of beating this disease.