Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death. Colon cancer starts as a growth or “polyp” on the lining of the colon. If the polyp is removed, the cancer may be prevented. More than half of deaths from colon cancer could be prevented with screening; however, one out of every three adults is not up-to-date with screening.
Changes in bowel habits, blood in the stool, stomach pain, or weight loss may be signs of colon cancer. Many people don’t have any symptoms, which is why it is so important to get screened. The risk of getting colon cancer goes up as you get older. Most people should get screened starting at age 50. People at higher risk may need to get screened earlier.
You may be at higher risk if:
you are African American
you or a family member has had polyps or colon cancer
you have inflammatory bowel disease
you have certain inherited genes
Certain lifestyle habits can also increase the risk of colon cancer. Here are some things you can do to help reduce your risk:
limit how much red meat (beef) and processed meat (hot dogs, deli meat) you eat
eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
keep a healthy weight
avoid heavy alcohol use
To get screened for colon cancer, a doctor can look at your colon with a camera (colonoscopy), or you can use a test that looks for blood in your stool. Each of these tests has pros and cons. Talk with your health care provider to find out which is best for you.
If you have a colonoscopy, you’ll need to take medicine called a “bowel prep” to clean out your colon beforehand. This will help your doctor see the lining of your colon very clearly during the test. You must follow the directions for taking it so any polyps or cancer don’t get missed. You will also need to drink plenty of fluids to keep hydrated and avoid any red or purple liquids that could be mistaken for blood in your colon. Taking a “bowel prep” is not always pleasant, but it is important to do it correctly. Ask your pharmacist or prescriber for tricks to make the bowel prep easier to tolerate.
To learn more about colon cancer, visit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or call 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636).
Content taken from Pharmacist’s Letter.