March is Colon Cancer Prevention Month: What you should know about colon cancer

March 13, 2012

Colon cancer remains one of the most prevalent cancers in the US, affecting 1 in 18 Americans during an average lifetime. This year, more than 143,000 new cases and 51,000 deaths are expected (only lung cancer kills more women and men than colon cancer). Men and women are affected equally. Age is a major risk factor with dramatic increases in colon cancer after age 50. A family history of colon cancer is another major risk factor that accounts for approximately one third of all cases. A family history in a first degree relative (parent or sibling) portrays a lifetime risk of colon cancer of 10-33%.

Colon cancer for the most part is a preventable disease. Incidence and death rates have been declining for the past 20 years because of increased use of screening tests and better treatments. However, only about 6 in 10 adults are up to date on getting screened for colon cancer. Most colon cancers arise from a preexisting noncancerous growth referred to as an adenomatous polyp. The hallmark of colon cancer screening is to identify those individuals who form precancerous polyps, and to have them removed non-surgically through colonoscopy.

Colonoscopy is the gold standard for colon cancer screening because of its accuracy in identifying small cancers and polyps and, the ability to remove them in one outpatient procedure. Colonoscopy has been found to significantly reduce colon cancer deaths by greater than 50%. This number compares favorably with mammography for breast cancer in women.

Colonoscopy may be the most unloved cancer screening test. However, the procedure itself is painless with proper sedation. Its risk is minimal when performed by experienced gastrointestinal endoscopists (gastroenterologists). If you are 50 years or older and/or have a family member with colon cancer/precancerous polyp, please discuss with your physician concerning your need for colonoscopy. He or she can then refer you to a skilled gastroenterologist for this important outpatient procedure.

(Ed. Note: People often say the worst part of colonoscopy is the prep – you can see videos about what it's like, and more information about colon cancer and screening, on our Pinterest board. Also, stop by our booth at the Mercer Island Half Marathon on Sunday, March 25, an event benefiting colon cancer prevention.)

Topics: Cancer, Services


I am a recent avid ruennr, started running when I was 51, have run 9 marathons, did Boston last spring. I asked for a colonoscopy. No symptoms, no family history, just wanted to have a clear record. I didn't think I was a superman, but I was eating well and training well and and as a 57 year old was feeling the best in my life.I was totally shocked when I was told I had rectal cancer. I had a re-section( removed the tumor) and because the cancer was trying to spread and had affected 7 of 12 lymph nodes I had to have chemotherapy and radiation treatment over the following 7 months. I haven't been able run in the last 11 months.I still have residual side effects from the chemotherapy.As no superman above posted, and I speak with experience I would rather have a colonoscopy any day than the treatment for cancer. I am now on the cancer radar and have preventative measures of a blood test for a cancer marker CEA every 4 months , a body scan looking for cancer spread to lungs liver and bones every year and a colons...
Hello, My husband had a colonoscopy in 2012 which resulted in removal of a foot or so of his colon due to the masses of polups. He also had colon cancer approximately twenty years ago. With this history how often should he have the inside of his bladder looked at and how often should he have a colonoscopy?Thank you
Heidi, this is a difficult question to answer with the limited information available. In short, your husband could have a genetic colon cancer syndrome which may also put him at risk for other organ specific cancers such as the urinary bladder.The recommendations for colonoscopy and cystoscopy would depend on this diagnosis. I would recommend that your husband see his gastroenterologist to determine if he has Lynch�s syndrome which would dictate strict guidelines for colonoscopy, etc.Good luck!