March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, and it's important to know the facts about this deadly disease. Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is one of the most common types of cancer in both men and women. In fact, it is estimated that over 104,000 new cases of colon cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year alone.

Why is Colon Cancer So Prevalent?

Several factors contribute to the prevalence of colon cancer. Lifestyle choices, such as a diet high in red and processed meats, insufficient intake of fruits and vegetables, lack of physical activity, obesity, smoking, and excessive alcohol use, greatly increase the risk.

Additionally, genetics and family history can play a significant role; those with a family history of colon cancer or colon polyps have an increased risk of developing the disease. Age is also a factor, with the majority of cases being diagnosed in individuals over 50 years old.

Despite these risks, preventive measures like regular screenings and adopting a healthier lifestyle can significantly reduce the chances of developing colon cancer.

What are Colon Polyps?

Colon polyps are small clumps of cells that form on the lining of the colon. While most polyps are benign and do not cause any symptoms, a small percentage can develop into colon cancer over time. It is essential to identify and remove polyps early to prevent the progression to cancer.

Types of Colon Polyps and Their Descriptions

Colon polyps can be categorized into several types, each with its implications for developing into colorectal cancer:

  • Adenomatous Polyps (Adenomas): These are the most common type of polyps, accounting for about 70% of all cases. Adenomas are considered pre-cancerous, meaning they have the potential to turn into cancer if not removed.
  • Hyperplastic Polyps and Inflammatory Polyps: Although these types of polyps are more common than adenomatous polyps, they are generally considered non-pre-cancerous. These polyps are usually small and do not tend to develop into colorectal cancer.
  • Sessile Serrated Polyps (SSPs) and Traditional Serrated Adenomas (TSAs): SSPs and TSAs are less common but are known for their potential to become cancerous, especially if they are larger than 1 centimeter. They require careful monitoring and removal when detected.
  • Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP): This is a rare, hereditary condition that causes hundreds to thousands of adenomatous polyps to form in the colon. Without surgical intervention, individuals with FAP have a nearly 100% chance of developing colorectal cancer by age 40.

Understanding the different types of polyps and their potential to become cancerous is a crucial step in preventing and treating colon cancer effectively.

But Why is Colon Cancer Awareness so Important? 

Colon cancer is the third most common cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women. However, with early detection and proper treatment, the survival rate for colon cancer can be as high as 90%. This highlights the importance of raising awareness about the disease and encouraging people to get screened regularly.

How Does Family History Affect Your Chances of Colon Cancer?

Family history significantly impacts an individual's risk of developing colon cancer. If a person has a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) who has been diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer, their risk of getting the disease themselves is two to three times higher than someone without a family history.

Particularly, hereditary syndromes like Lynch syndrome and Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) markedly increase the risk and often lead to cancer at a younger age. Understanding one's family medical history allows for better preventative measures, such as more frequent screenings beginning at an earlier age, to detect potential issues before they develop into cancer.

What Can You Do to Help Raise Awareness? 

  • Get Screened: The most effective way to prevent colon cancer is by getting regular screenings. If you are over 50 or have a family history of the disease, talk to your doctor about which screening option is best for you.
  • Share Information: Share this article and other resources with your friends, family, and community to raise awareness about colon cancer and the importance of preventive measures.
  • Support Organizations: There are many organizations dedicated to colon cancer awareness and research. Consider donating or volunteering your time to help support their efforts.
  • Lead by Example: Adopting a healthier lifestyle can not only decrease your risk of developing colon cancer, but it can also inspire others to do the same. Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly, avoid smoking and excessive alcohol use, and get regular screenings.

As we continue to bring awareness to colon cancer this month and beyond, let us all work towards a future where no one has to fear or lose their life to this preventable disease. Together, we can make a difference in the fight against colon cancer.

We, here at North Carolina Digestive Health Partners, encourage you to contact us and set up an appointment to help diagnose and help you find the best treatment plan for you.