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Colon cancer screening
U.S. Navy Cmdr. Candida Ferguson, a general surgeon, talks with a patient about colon cancer screening. Navy photo

This year, colon cancer will take more than 52,000 lives in the United States. That’s the bad news. The good news is that nearly 30 times that number living in America survived the disease. While this type of cancer remains the third most common, it’s no longer a death sentence for those who receive such a diagnosis.

That’s not by accident. Preventing and successfully beating colon cancer happens when you take care of yourself and get regular screening. Today’s technology to detect colon polyps and remove them before they become cancer cells is better than ever. 

Colorectal cancer screening is a critical reason the U.S. case rate continues to drop. According to the National Cancer Institute, the number of diagnoses were reduced by 2% each year in adults aged 50 and older from 2014 to 2018. That directly correlates to the large percentage of individuals who got screened regularly.

The myth was that only those who experienced symptoms needed to go through a colonoscopy or similar procedure. Not so. Early colorectal cancer doesn’t ordinarily come with any signs or warnings. ASCRS, the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, recommends that all men and women who are 45 or older undergo routine screenings. 

Moreover, ASCRS encourages individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer, polyps, or inflammatory bowel and rectal diseases to consider getting screened before age 45. Women with a family history of ovarian, endometrial, or breast cancer should also consider screening before they turn 45.

That said, family history plays a factor in the risk of someone getting colorectal cancer only about 25% of the time, according to ASCRS. The disease also doesn’t discriminate by gender, with men and women contracting colon cancer at nearly an equal rate. 

There’s been a lot reported about the daunting screening procedure. Trust me as someone who’s been through it — the most unpleasant part is the preparation an individual must do before undergoing the colonoscopy.

Regardless, the 20-minute process will be far less invasive and painful than months-long cancer treatment that may involve extensive surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Additional complications can ensue if the cancer is not detected early enough and spreads to other organs.

What’s more, a colonoscopy is only one way to get screened. Other options exist, including less invasive stool-based tests. Regardless of what you and your doctor decide, getting tested regularly, adhering to a proper diet, regular exercise, avoiding tobacco, and limiting alcohol consumption are key factors in preventing you from getting colorectal cancer.

We’re looking to get back to pre-COVID levels of screening. Today, only half of those who should get tested for colorectal cancer do. Thanks to a grant from the California Colorectal Cancer Coalition, we will help change that. Please do your part for your health and your family. You may save a life — yours.

Dr. Nishwan Jibri is a primary care provider at Neighborhood Healthcare, a regional federally qualified health center providing a wide range of medical, dental, and behavioral health services.

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Ellen Bullock