Colon cancer is currently the third most common cancer diagnosis in the United States and the third leading cause of cancer deaths. Colon cancer is difficult to detect and even harder to treat in the later stages. However, there is hope! Screening makes it easy to detect cancer in its early stages or even before it becomes a threat to you. There are also several things you can begin implementing into your life today to help lower your risk for a colon cancer diagnosis. March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, and as we celebrate those who fought colon cancer bravely, take a moment to consider your own life and how you can prevent this disease from harming your body.

Who is at Risk?

There are two groups of people who are at risk for colon cancer–those that have control over their risk factors and those that don’t. Those that have control, have the opportunity to make changes in their life to lower their risk and potentially prevent a diagnosis. Smoking, diet, sedentary lifestyle, and obesity are included on the list of risk factors for colon cancer. However, making adjustments to your current habits may actually save your life. Smoking causes a number of health issues including colon cancer. Take steps to stop smoking and you may avoid an unwanted diagnosis. If your diet currently includes high fat or highly processed foods with little fiber, then you are at a higher risk for colon cancer. Begin trading out the fast food for fruits and vegetables. A sedentary lifestyle can easily be traded for an active lifestyle if you commit to making exercise a priority. Changes in diet and exercise may also help if you need to manage your weight and live a more healthy life. You might be at risk for colon cancer and not have any control over it. These risk factors include age, race, genetics, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and diabetes. If you have Type 2 diabetes or have been diagnosed with either Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, you are already at risk for developing colon cancer. Or, you may have inherited a gene mutation in the form of Lynch syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) that may be cancer causing. Be sure to inform your doctor if you have a family history of colon cancer or colon polyps as this puts you at a higher risk. In the United States, African Americans have the highest mortality rate linked to colon cancer. Ashkenazi Jews are at the greatest risk of colon cancer among every nationality in the world. Unfortunately, age is something none of us can avoid. Most colon cancer patients are over the age of 50 which is why doctors highly recommend a colonoscopy at that time. But for those of you who are at a higher risk, screenings can take place before you turn 50. This will give you the greatest chance of catching and defeating colon cancer in its early stages.

Why Should I Be Screened?

Colon cancer is difficult to detect in the early stages without a screening, however, the later that it is discovered, the more harmful and potentially fatal it becomes. Colonoscopies are designed to detect cancer early but also detect the threat of cancer. In a colonoscopy, a small tube with a light and a camera at the end is inserted into your rectum and up to your colon. The camera searches for abnormal growths called polyps. Polyps are not cancerous at first, but if left in the colon for 10 to 15 years, they can become cancerous. If a polyp is found during a colonoscopy, it can easily be removed and biopsied to determine whether or not it is cancerous. This is why regular screening is so important! A polyp can be detected and removed before it becomes detrimental to you. There’s no need to be fearful of any pain, discomfort, or embarrassment that is often associated with a colonoscopy. You are typically asleep due to anesthesia for the thirty minute procedure.  If you are at a high risk for colon cancer or are at least 50 years old, then don’t hesitate to schedule a colonoscopy at Asheville Gastroenterology, a division of Digestive Health Partners. Let the blue ribbons that mark Colon Cancer Awareness Month inspire you to take care of your body and take control over your health. Colon cancer doesn’t have to win the battle if you’re willing to step up and get screened.