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This Year, Make the Pledge to Take Care of Your Colon Health

man at doctors office receiving consultation for colon screening

Why Colon Screenings are Important

By Jennifer Footit-Tank, quality care coordinator at Network Health
Originally published on 2/232021 at 9:00 a.m.

Over the past year, many providers and insurers have put preventative health care needs on hold in order to direct resources toward fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Meaning for many, preventative care has been put on the back burner.

The good news is that with the coronavirus vaccine being administered to people across the United States, preventative care is coming back into focus. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. One way to celebrate is by discussing this important health screening with your personal doctor.

What is colon cancer?

Colon cancer occurs in the colon or the rectum. The colon is the longest part of the large intestine. The rectum is at the bottom of the large intestine. 90% of all cases occur in people who are 50 years old or older.

What are the risk factors for colon cancer?

Colon cancer’s most prevalent risk factor is age. The risk of developing this cancer increases as you age. For this reason, screenings are recommended for men and women from age 50 to 75 years old.  

Some other important risk factors of which you should be aware include the following.

  • A diet low in fiber and high in fat or processed meats
  • Low physical activity
  • Being overweight
  • Smoking
  • Family history of colorectal cancer
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis

What test do I need for colon cancer?

An uncommon myth is that cancer tests should only be done if you’re experiencing symptoms that may align with the cancer for which they’re testing. Screening tests are for people who are not having any symptoms. Tests are either stool-based or visual.

Several options are available for stool-based screening. These tests are done in your home by following the directions from the kit and returning it to your doctor’s office or mailing it to a lab. If the test is abnormal your doctor will follow-up with you.

  • Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) or guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) looks for tiny amounts of blood in the stool. Blood can be a sign of large polyps or cancer.
  • Stool DNA testing looks for specific DNA changes in the stool. These changes can be from cancer cells or pre-cancerous polyps. This test also checks for blood in the stool.

Visual testing uses cameras and sensors to look directly inside the lower colon and rectum.

  • CT colography or virtual colonoscopy uses a CT scan to take images of your colon and does require a bowel prep prior to the test. Your doctor’s office will provide you with directions.
  • Colonoscopy is performed by a doctor using a small flexible camera to look at the inside of the rectum and colon. This test allows for any polyps to be removed during the test. This test also requires a bowel prep before the test and sedation during the test.

Who can I go to for colon screening support?

If you are nervous about colon screening take along a trusted friend or family member to your doctor appointment. Work with your provider to have all of your questions answered.

Should I get my colon screening during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Yes – as long as you’re able to do so safely. Talk with your health care provider about safety precautions that are being put in place for elective procedures. Remember, there are other screening options that can be completed in the safety of your home. Your provider will be able to help you select the test that will work best for you.

How do I reduce my chances of colon cancer?

Colon cancer is not an inevitable disease. There are several steps you can take to reduce your risk, even with factors outside of your control such as age or genetics.

  • Get regular screenings as recommended by your doctor.
  • Increase your daily activity level. Consider a wearable fitness tracker to ensure you’re getting your steps and activity in. (Need help picking one out? Click here.)
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Limit alcohol use.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Keep your body weight and fat percentage in a healthy range per the individualized advice of your personal doctor.

Take control of your colon health and act early. Completing early screening gives you a better chance of preventing colon cancer and allows for easier treatment if it is detected. Work with your provider and set up your screening. You’ll be thankful you did.

For more information on screenings, tests and preventative care and how your health plan can help you enjoy your health year-round, contact us today.

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