“Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. The great thing is that we have an excellent way to avoid it, and it’s called a Screening Colonoscopy. For an average-risk person, the age to get your first colonoscopy is 45 years old. Almost all colon cancer starts as precancerous growths called polyps. We remove these polyps during a screening colonoscopy before they grow into cancer.
I look forward to March because it is colon cancer awareness month. Elevating this awareness message is critical to help prevent colon cancer and is part of my mission as a gastroenterologist in Plano, TX. I love it when someone comes in for a colonoscopy and tells me that they learned about it over a dinner party or talking with friends who have gone through it say it’s no big deal. The more people that share this message, the more lives we can save. So if you have had your screening colonoscopy, please share your experience with friends, family, co-workers, or total strangers. You might be saving someone’s life!”
– Kenneth Brown, MD
Colon Cancer: 5 Misconceptions
1) Screening for Colon Cancer is only needed if you have symptoms
Truth: A common belief is that colon cancer screening is only necessary for those experiencing signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer — such as bleeding from the rectum, persistent changes in bowel movements, or unexpected weight loss. However, the truth is that it takes years for this cancer to progress to a point where you experience symptoms, which is why it is described as a “silent disease.” By the time a patient begins noticing problems, the disease is often more advanced and more challenging to treat.
Tip: Following the recommended colon cancer screening guidelines can prevent this cancer from developing. Factors such as age, medical history, family history, and ethnicity may play a role in the age your doctor recommends getting your 1st colonoscopy. Please have that conversation regardless of whether or not you are experiencing symptoms. Average-risk individuals should have their first screening colonoscopy at age 45.
2) Colon Cancer is an older person’s disease
Truth: While it is true that your risk of colon cancer increases with age, it can occur in younger adults & teenagers. In 2018, the American Cancer Society recommended that colon cancer screening starts at age 45, rather than 50, for average-risk individuals. This change was made due to a higher incidence of colon cancer in younger adults.
Tip: Don’t ignore your digestive symptoms, especially with younger adults. In some instances, common symptoms can indicate a more significant medical issue. Digestive diseases, like colorectal cancer, are easier to treat in the early stages of development.
3) The colonoscopy is painful and can be embarrassing
Truth: Colonoscopy is not a complicated procedure and is often easier than expected. Since patients are sedated, there should be no discomfort. Patient privacy is paramount during the exam. Their bottom is covered with a blanket, and the room lighting is turned down. The doctor and staff are looking at the screen displaying the visual from the camera, so there is no need to feel embarrassed.
Tip: Doing an excellent job with the prep is essential for a successful colonoscopy. Doing so provides a clear view of the colon for your doctor, which gives them the best opportunity to find polyps should they exist. While the prep can be unpleasant for some, newer prep kit solutions are easier to digest. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about the prep.
4) Colon Cancer cannot be prevented
Truth: There is no absolute method to prevent colorectal cancer. However, following the colon cancer screening guidelines will significantly reduce your risk. With regular screening, beginning at age 45 for average-risk individuals, most polyps can be found and removed before they have the chance to turn into cancer.
Tip: Early detection is the key to beating colorectal cancer. Don’t put off getting your first screening colonoscopy!
5) Colonoscopy is my only screening option
Truth: Colonoscopy isn’t the only way to screen for colorectal cancer. Another option is home-based tests that look for small amounts of blood in the stool. With such tests, patients take a stool sample after having a bowel movement in the privacy of their bathroom then mail the sample off to a lab for analysis. If the test comes back positive, the patient will need a colonoscopy to confirm the result and examine the colon for polyps.
Cologuard is a popular home testing option due to its frequent advertising. Here are a few pros and cons to this home-based testing option:
- Pros: The test can be done in the convenience of your home, and there is no bowel prep. Unlike other non-invasive colorectal cancer screening tests, Cologuard primarily checks for colon cancer, not precancerous polyps.
- Cons: If you test positive, you will then need a diagnostic Colonoscopy to verify the positive test and remove polyps should they exist. A diagnostic Colonoscopy is not fully covered by private insurance or Medicare (copays and deductibles may apply), so the out-of-pocket cost is higher for those with a positive Cologuard than if they would have used a Colonoscopy for their initial screening exam. Another con is that if you have a negative Cologuard test, your next test will be in three years. If you have a negative screening colonoscopy, your next test will be in 10 years.
Tip: Home-based tests have been shown to detect colon cancer after it has formed. For this reason, gastroenterologists view these tests as an inferior screening tool since they will not detect polyps, just cancer. Colon cancer is significantly easier to treat in the early stages of development. For this reason, this test should be used if a colonoscopy cannot be performed.
Increasing the participation rates with any screening exam will help us achieve the goal of lowering the incidence of colon cancer. That being said, colonoscopy is the ONLY colon cancer screening exam that can both detect & remove polyps, which is why it is considered the gold standard for colon cancer screening. You’re encouraged to discuss which screening exam is best for you with your doctor. No matter which test you choose, the most important thing is to get tested!
Colon Cancer Awareness Events – DFW 2022
Whether you have a personal connection to colon cancer or want to help raise awareness, the DFW area has some great events that you can participate in. I’ve provided basic information on each event below, along with a link to the event website.
National Dress Blue Day
- Date: Friday, March 4, 2022
- Event Info: click here
- Great opportunity to increase awareness at the office or with friends & family!
Evan White’s Brews & Blue – Bar Crawl for Colon Cancer Awareness
- Date: Saturday, March 5, 2022
- Location: Henderson Avenue (Dallas, TX)
- Event Info: click here
*This is an adult event in Dallas that has raised over $50k since 2019 for colorectal cancer research.
Get Your Rear in Gear
- Date: Sunday, March 20, 2022
- Location: Trinity Park (Fort Worth, TX)
- Event Info: click here
Colorectal Cancer 5k Walk-A-Thon
- Date: Saturday, November 5, 2022
- Location: River Legacy Park (Arlington, TX)
- Event Info: click here