What You Need to Know About Colon Cancer Screening

The recommendations for colon cancer screening were recently updated by the American Cancer Society, based on the recent rise in colon cancer among adults younger than 55 years.

Today, I’m going to share with you some information about colon cancer screening, so you know what to expect, and offer you a few tips to help you stay healthy.

Why Screening for Colon Cancer is So Important 

Colorectal cancer, commonly referred to as colon cancer, is the fourth most common type of cancer in adults. It’s estimated that 140,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colon cancer in 2018 alone (1).

While deaths from colon cancer have improved in older adults, the opposite is true for those under the age of 55: the number of people diagnosed with the disease has gone up by about 50% and deaths have increased by about 10%.

Screening for colon cancer is important because it helps to catch any early signs of cancer, and therefore, significantly improves your odds of developing or dying from the disease.

Who Should Get Screened

Most adults should get their first colon cancer screen at the age of 45 and should continue to get them regularly through the age of 75 or beyond, based on a person’s individual health status.

Adults who are at higher risk for colon cancer should be screened before the age of 45 and should be screened more often. People who are considered to be at increased risk for colon cancer include those who have:

  • a personal or family history of colon cancer;
  • a personal or family history of certain types of polyps;
  • a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (such as ulcerative colitis or Chron’s disease);
  • a personal history of radiation to the belly area to treat another type of cancer; or
  • certain genetic syndromes.

What is the Screen Like?

There are several screening options available. These include stool-based tests, which generally should be done every year, and visual imaging exams (colonoscopies), which should be done every 5-10 years or when a stool-based test is positive.

Most people opt for the stool-based test because it’s the least invasive and doesn’t require a special diet or laxative treatment to prepare. To do a stool-based test, your doctor will give you a take-home kit that you can use to collect a sample and mail to a lab.

Anyone who is at higher risk for colon cancer will need to do a colonoscopy or similar visual imaging exam.

How to Lower Your Risk of Colon Cancer

While genetics play a role in your risk of colon cancer, it’s estimated that 50-60% of recent colon cancer cases can be attributed to lifestyle choices (2). You can significantly reduce your odds of getting the disease by following a healthy lifestyle and diet.

Risk factors that increase the risk of colon cancer include smoking cigarettes, being overweight, drinking excess alcohol, and eating a poor diet.

One of the best ways you can improve your diet for colon cancer prevention is to eat more fiber. Aim for 30-35 grams of fiber per day – from foods like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, and nuts – but know that every gram counts. Research shows that for every 10 grams of fiber consumed daily, the risk of colon cancer is reduced by 10% (3).

It’s also important to cut back on red meat and processed meats. A number of studies have found that eating a lot of red meat is associated with a higher risk of colon cancer (4). Additionally, research shows that people who eat a lot of processed meat have a 20-50% higher risk of colon cancer than those who don’t eat any processed meat at all (5).

Final Thoughts

The thought of colon cancer screening can sometimes make people feel embarrassed or uncomfortable, but the fact is, it’s a fairly simple way to prevent what can be a deadly disease. Starting today, take positive steps to reduce your risk of colon cancer, such as adding an extra cup of vegetables to your plate, and talk to your doctor about what type of screening method is best for you.

Wishing you health and wellness,
Dr. Zivich