The Importance of Colon Health

Year of You March 2016

Happy colon cancer awareness month! We get it, neither colon screening nor even talking about our colons is generally something we are “happy” to do. But the objective of presidential awareness campaigns is to create awareness. And as the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, colon cancer seems a worthy target. So, for just a few moments, let’s reflect on what we know and what we can do.

For many of us, hearing that colon cancer is such a frequent cause of death is hard to believe. Why? Well most of us don’t talk about our colons or bowel habits, even with our physicians. And despite renewed attention to our colons through events like Katie Couric’s on-air colonoscopy or Ellen Degeneres’ colon screening monologue, most women continue to believe that it is not a common cancer among our gender. But, just like men, it is the third most common cancer for women too.

Clearly, one of the greatest hurdles to getting more people on board with colonoscopies is the preparation needed to perform an adequate exam. How long do I have to go without solid food? How can I fit this into my already crazy schedule?  The US Multi-Society Task Force on Colorectal Cancer released guidelines in 2014 that help identify for physicians the most effective preparation for patients to use. And better prep, means fewer repeat exams, something we all can cheer for. It may not be a fun way to spend an evening and morning, but if it means a lower risk of colon cancer, it sure would beat surgery and chemotherapy.

And did you know that many cases of colon cancer can be prevented? It takes on average 10 years for a newly formed colon polyp to develop into cancer, which theoretically should provide time for us to find and remove the polyp before it becomes a problem. And yet, just 50% of adults over age 50 are getting appropriately screened. Individuals in the general population should begin having colonoscopies at age 50, but some individuals with family histories of colon cancer or those few with a hereditary susceptibility may be advised to start earlier or to have more frequent exams. The genetic counselors at IMG can help you assess your risk and help you determine the best screening strategy by gathering a detailed family history and when or if appropriate genetic testing for hereditary causes.

So, talk to your doctor about colon screening and your risk. And let us know if we can be of help!


This blog post is part of a 12-post series dedicated to The Year of You, providing health and wellness tips so you can live your most healthful year and life.