Five Things Doctors Want You to Know About Colon Cancer

By Caitlund Davidson, Health Promotion and Communications Planner, Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre



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Colon cancer is appearing in news headlines more often nowadays. After the deaths of several high-profile individuals, an increasing number of celebrities are coming forward to share their diagnosis, in hopes of bringing awareness to colon cancer. This is sparking conversation about a disease considered taboo in the past and not openly talked about. So let’s talk about it, starting with the experts. What do health-care providers want us to know about colon cancer? Cancer screening is one of the best tools we have to find colon cancer early. In Ontario, your chances of developing colon cancer are approximately 1 in 20. However, there is good news. “When colon cancer is detected early, the chance of survival is 90%, which is outstanding compared to many other cancers,” shares Dr. Jordan Green, regional colorectal screening and GI endoscopy lead at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. “However, in our region, we have one of the highest rates of ‘overdue for screening’ in the province, at almost 50%.” This means that almost half of the eligible population in Northwestern Ontario is due for colon cancer screening. Getting screened for cancer is easier than you think and does not necessarily mean you need a colonoscopy. If you are at average risk for colon cancer, you should be screened every two years with a fecal immunochemical test (FIT) kit. Someone is at average risk if they are 50 to 74 years old with no first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister, or child) who has been diagnosed with colon cancer. A colonoscopy may be recommended if you are at high risk for developing colon cancer. You should consult with your health-care provider about your screening options. Screening for colon cancer with the FIT can be done at home. “I strongly encourage people to get a FIT—it is easy, can be done at home, and could save their life,” says Dr. Green. “Many of the FITpositive patients that come for follow up testing end up having large polyps— abnormal growths that form on the lining of the colon. We are able to remove these using an endoscope and actually prevent cancer from forming. A simple test like the FIT can literally save your life.” Learn your family history. If you have a parent, sibling, or child who has had colon cancer, you are at a higher risk of developing the disease. If you have a family history of colon cancer, you should speak to your health-care provider about the type of screening that is right for you. Lifestyle can play a significant role in whether or not you may get colon cancer. Even if you are outside of the colon cancer screening age range, there are lifestyle choices that you can make to reduce your chances of getting colon cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight by staying active and choosing nutritious foods, avoiding red and processed meats, limiting alcohol consumption, and living smoke-free can reduce your risk.