March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month – no better time to learn the facts about colon cancer and get tested.
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of death among men and women in the United States, yet it is preventable. Signs and symptoms may not appear until the cancer is well-established. Colon cancer develops out of benign growths or polyps.
Colon Cancer is largely preventable by identifying and removing polyps; the sooner, the better! Early detection of polyps is best done through regular screening colonoscopies. Screenings are recommended for men and women, beginning when they turn 45. Those with a family history of colorectal or other cancers may be advised to screen earlier.
Most people who are considering colon cancer screening often believe that they are at low risk for the disease because there is no history of colorectal cancer in their family.
More than two-thirds of colon cancers develop in people with NO family history or persons with a single-family member who had the disease (e.g., an uncle or cousin or grandparent).
When cancer is found, it is beneficial to test the cancer tissue for genetic disorders. A small percentage of cancers can lead us to identify family members who have exponentially higher risks of cancer of the ovary, uterus, colon, or other organs.
So, what does testing involve?
Your gastroenterologist will administer a routine set of tests on the tissue of the colon cancer. Suppose the test indicates a high probability that a genetic disorder is involved. In that case, your physician will refer you to a genetic counselor so that a more detailed family history can be obtained and further genetic testing can be performed.