Colon cancer doesn’t discriminate between men and women, doctors and lawyers, rich and poor. It’s the second most deadly cancer with about 150,000 new cases reported each year in the US. But according to Dr. Josh Vandersteen, a gastroenterologist at Ogden Clinic, colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, if not the most preventable. How is it prevented? You guessed it, with a screening colonoscopy. March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month and your reminder to schedule a screening colonoscopy if you’re over age 50.
Colon Cancer is a Silent Killer
Incidents of colon cancer occur throughout all races, socioeconomic statuses, and genders. Unlike some cancers, people often don’t see or feel a problem until it’s progressed. “One of the worst things about colon cancer is that it’s asymptomatic in the early stages, which is why a screening colonoscopy is so important,” says Dr. Vandersteen. “Once people start developing symptoms, it’s unfortunately reached the later stages.” All people, with or without a family history of colon cancer, should have a screening colonoscopy at age 50, according to Dr. Vandersteen.
A Colonoscopy is Still Our Best Defense
The dreaded colonoscopy, a mid-life rite of passage, still remains the gold standard for detecting pre-cancerous polyps in the colon. This preventative screening is covered by nearly all insurances and it could save your life. “Nobody wants to get a colonoscopy,” says Dr. Vandersteen, “I wish there was a more convenient way to identify polyps; I wish the prep was easier on people, but a colonoscopy certainly beats the alternative.”
Is Colon Cancer Hereditary?
Gene mutations that increase the risk of colon cancer can be passed through families, says Dr. Vandersteen. “Another measure I advise is really digging into your family’s history of colon cancer, colorectal polyps, and other gastro conditions. After that, share your findings with your primary care provider,” says Dr. Vandersteen. “If you have a sibling or a parent who’s had colon cancer, this steeply increases your chance of developing it.”
Dr. Vandersteen himself is at a high-risk of developing colon cancer because of his own family history. “My dad’s mom passed of colon cancer. Both parents on my mom’s side also did; my grandpa passed away after colon cancer spread to his liver, and my grandmother died of stomach and small intestine cancer.”
If you haven’t yet explored your family health history, it’s never too late. If your primary care physician determines that you’re a high-risk patient, your screening colonoscopies will begin before age 50.
Dr. Vandersteen practices at Ogden Clinic Ridgeline in South Ogden. If it’s time for your screening colonoscopy, schedule a visit with him at (801) 475-3380.