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March is Colon cancer awareness month – Dr. Nilesh Mehta


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Colon cancer screening


March is colon cancer awareness month. Awareness of the disease should be year-round; however, March mainly focuses on colon cancer. Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States of America. One disturbing statistic from the National Center for Health Statistics finds that colon cancer is increasing in adults 55 years of age and younger at a rather unexpected rate.


Early cancer diagnosis leads to higher cure rates; hence, screening for that particular cancer is paramount. Screening tests are recommended for certain types of cancer, including breast, cervical, colon, lung, and prostate cancer. With regards to colon cancer, more than half of all colorectal cancers are linked to risk factors; obesity, smoking, alcohol, a diet with lots of red or processed meats, age, personal or family history of colorectal polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, hereditary cancer syndromes such as Lynch syndrome, race and ethnicity. African American individuals are at higher risk for colorectal cancer.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There are several ways to approach screening for colorectal cancer.

Colonoscopy: A colonoscopy is a procedure in which a health care expert uses a long, flexible tube with a camera and light at the end to examine the entire colon and rectum. Any abnormal tissue or growths (polyps) can be removed and sent for further testing during the procedure. The advantage of this procedure is that diagnosis and treatment are often rendered simultaneously, especially in certain polyps. However, Anesthesia is required for this procedure, and there is a possibility of complication(s).
Faecal immunochemical test (FIT): A FIT is a test that checks for occult blood in the stool. A positive FIT result may indicate the presence of colon cancer or polyps, which may require further testing. The presence of blood in the stool does not always mean cancer of the rectum or colon. However, the medical personnel must pursue further testing. The FIT test needs to be performed every year.
Stool DNA test (sDNA) every 3 years: A stool DNA test is a newer test that looks for DNA changes associated with colon cancer and polyps in the stool. This test may be an option for people unable or unwilling to undergo a colonoscopy.
Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years for people with average risk: A flexible sigmoidoscopy is a procedure in which the endoscopist examines the lower part of the colon and rectum using a flexible tube with a camera and light.
CT colonography ( virtual colonoscopy) performed every 5 years also provides an alternative for people.

Raising cancer awareness is an ongoing effort that requires a collaborative approach from individuals, medical personnel, communities, and organisations. Celebrity endorsements and the dissemination of information on social media have also been very helpful in spreading meaningful information on this topic. By working together, we can help reduce the impact of cancer and improve the lives of those affected by the disease. The likelihood of a cure for any cancer depends on the cancer diagnosis stage. Learning from patients, family members, neighbours, social media, and educational websites are all potential avenues to spread this vital screening news. There is no question that screening for cancers saves lives.


At an individual level, hiINDia readers should speak with parents, siblings, neighbours, friends, and family members and discuss the complex topic of screening for colon cancer. More importantly, have your loved ones see their physician or health care provider so that a discussion on this topic can occur.

American Cancer Society 2018 guidelines:


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