Be honest. You haven’t had a colonoscopy for a while have you? Or do you even know what a colonoscopy is, and why it’s important? Colon health might not pop out as a pressing concern. But if you’re over 50 and part of a growing trend of Americans unaware of colon health, there’s reason for concern.
The colon is part of the large intestine and is the last stop in the digestive system. The colon removes water and salt from solid waste before it’s removed from the body. While it doesn’t play a major role in the digestive process, it is the site where bacterial fermentation of unabsorbed materials occurs, and absorbs water and some fat soluble vitamins.
Colorectal cancer is a cancer of the colon, rectum or vermiform appendix. Starting as a small growth, or adenoma in the bowel wall, this common cancer moves beyond the bowel muscles and, if left untreated, can spread beyond the bowel walls.
Colorectal cancer is the second most diagnosed cancer in the world. GLOBOCAN estimates that 1.23 million new cases were diagnosed in 2008.
Risk factors for colorectal cancer include:
- age – most cases occur in the 60s and 70s
- growth of polyps in the colon
- family history of colorectal cancer
- for women, history of cancer of the breast, ovary or uterus
- a diet that’s high in red meat and low in fresh fruit, poultry and fish
- excessive alcohol consumption
- low levels of selenium
A colonoscopy is an examination of the colon and small bowel with a CCD or fiber optic camera to search for and remove adenomas. This is one of the most common and effective forms of screening for colorectal cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommends regular screening for colorectal cancer, with:
- a colonoscopy every ten years
- a flexible sigmoidoscopy (virtual colonoscopy) every five years
- fecal occult blood and immunochemical testing every year
The problem is, many Americans aren’t doing it. According to a survey conducted by the Colon Cancer Alliance, 33% of American adults between 60 and 70 have only been screened once for colorectal cancer. More notably, 31% of Americans over 50 have never been screened at all.
Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. And the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 60% of these deaths can be prevented.
The survey, of 1,304 US adults, suggests that many Americans get screened once and are then lulled into a sense of security. Of the one in three Americans who’d never been screened, more than a quarter said their health provider had never recommended screening.
Other reasons for avoidance include:
- no time
- didn’t know screening was necessary
- can’t afford screening
- no health insurance
Unfortunately, these reasons do little to quell the need for colorectal cancer screening. Of note, colorectal cancer is more common in developed nations, where most of the 600,000 estimated deaths occurred in 2008. In these nations, of fast-food and questionable nutritional intake, it’s easy to ignore colon health and risk of cancer.
Granted, the preparation for screening is not enjoyable, with fasting and laxatives over several days. Sixty-one per cent of the adults who’d never done the procedure indicated that as a reason why they’d never been screened.
But as the numbers suggest, it’s important to watch colon health, with regular screening and healthy lifestyle, to prevent colorectal cancer and the risk that comes with it.