The importance of colon-cancer screenings

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Health experts advise that individuals with a high risk of colon cancer or who are over the age of 50 should begin screening for colon cancer to increase their chance of detecting the cancer before it spreads. 

“(Screening) is a very important role in early diagnosis,” said Dr. Helen Kang, oncologist with Kaiser Permanente. “It significantly impacts survival.” 

In the United States, colon cancer is the third-most diagnosed cancer, according to a UCLA Health news release. 

“Because of the American diet and since younger patients are being diagnosed, if you notice changes, you need to let your primary care doctor know,” said Kang. “Do not ignore symptoms, especially if they are ongoing.” 

Symptoms of colon cancer include: a sudden change in bowel movements, rectal bleeding, dark stools, cramping in the abdominal area and unintended weight loss, according to the ACS website. 

Colon cancer, or colorectal cancer, starts as a growth, called polyps, on the inner lining of the colon or the rectum, according to the American Cancer Society website, and as the polyp grows, it affects other layers of the colon and rectum. 

Detecting these polyps before they become cancerous can be done through screenings. Being able to detect these cancerous growths before they spread can heavily impact the individual’s prognosis, Kang said. 

An individual can be screened for colon cancer in two ways: a colonoscopy or stool-based test called the FIT Kit, a UCLA Health news release said. 

If the results from the colonoscopy come back normal, the individual does not need to repeat the procedure until a decade later, the release added. The FIT Kit should be repeated annually. 

Whether someone between the ages of 76 to 85 should be screened is based on a person’s preferences, life expectancy, overall health, and prior screening history, according to the ACS guidelines. 

Individuals over the age of 85 should not receive colon cancer screening, ACS added. 

“When colon cancer is caught early, the disease can be cured in nine out of 10 cases,” said a Kaiser news release. “Screening can also prevent cancer by helping doctors find and remove polyps before they become cancerous.”

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