March has been declared national colon cancer awareness month, and as part of the effort to raise awareness of the disease, director of the Division of Gastroenterology at NYU Langone Medical Center Dr. Mark Pochapin has recently emphasized the importance of screening and prevention in this type of cancer.
Colorectal cancer is a malignant tumor of the inner walls of the large intestine and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. The good news is that, as Dr. Pochapin said in a news release “With early screening and prevention, this is one cancer that is highly curable and often preventable.” Colon cancers usually develop from polyps and their removal can prevent the disease.
Dr. Pochapin provides a few guidelines for individuals considering screening for colorectal cancer:
- Both men and women should start screening tests at the age of 50. If there are clear risk factors, such as a family history of colon cancer or polyps, screening should be initiated earlier. Physicians can help you determine the right time to begin screening.
- Perform screening exams before having symptoms, as many early colon cancers and pre-cancerous colon polyps are asymptomatic. Screening can identify colorectal cancer early and most importantly prevent cancer development by the removal of pre-cancerous polyps.
- Several screening options are available and the ideal one should be discussed with the physician. “When it comes to screening, a colonoscopy is the most comprehensive — allowing for examination of the entire colon and both the early detection and prevention of cancer — but the most important test is the test that gets done,” said Dr. Pochapin.
- Colonoscopy is currently considered the gold standard for screening, but other screening options are effective too, such as computerized tomography (CT) colonography, take-home stool tests (like the Fecal Immunochemical Test – FIT), and flexible sigmoidoscopy (to assess the rectum and large intestine section nearest the rectum). The US Food and Drug Administration have also recently approved a multi-targeted stool DNA tests.
Besides screening, Dr. Pochapin also recommends certain healthy behaviors to help minimize, at any age, the risk of developing colorectal cancer, namely:
- quit smoking if you are a smoker.
- have an active lifestyle and maintain a healthy body weight.
- eat a diet rich in vegetables and fruits.
- avoid excessive consumption of red and processed meats.
- consume alcohol only in moderation.
Pochapin believes that these straightforward best practices are critically important to make the public aware of during Colon Cancer awareness month. “If you’re age 50 or older, please call your doctor to schedule your colon cancer screening appointment,” advised Dr. Pochapin. “It could save your life.”