Life is busy. We become so consumed with our jobs, families and responsibilities of our day-to-day hectic schedules. However, we often forget to stop and take a closer look at our health and responsibility to ourselves.
As we age, our bodies become more dependent on our self-maintenance whether it be through lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, or following through with routine age appropriate medical checks such as colonoscopies.
A colonoscopy is a test in which a doctor looks through a lighted tube into the colon after the person has been sedated. The importance of this crucial test is often put to the side, because many don’t realize that this disease can go undetected since most people don’t have symptoms until it is too late to treat. One paradigm of the importance can be found in Katie Couric’s very public, televised colonoscopy after the sudden and tragic passing of her husband who died of colon cancer. This exposure reminds us how important it is to stay in touch with our bodies and follow the necessary protocol to prevent and save lives from potentially curable diseases if detected at an early stage. It also reminds us that we should not wait for a tragedy to awaken us of our responsibility to ourselves.
Colorectal cancer is a serious disease.
It is the third most common cancer and cancer deaths among both men and women (separately) in the United States. And the second most common cause of death-related cancer in men and women combined. This year, an estimated 141,210 adults in the U.S. will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. These grim numbers include 101,340 new cases of colon cancer and 39,870 new cases of rectal cancer. Therefore, it is estimated that 49,380 deaths (25,250 men and 24,130 women) will occur. After seeing such staggering numbers, the question that comes to mind is how to prevent and try to eliminate such high numbers.
Despite the fact that the causes of colorectal cancer are unknown, certain factors appear to increase the risk of developing the disease, which include: age, family history of cancer, having inflammatory bowel disease, adenomatus polyps, and one’s lifestyle.
The risk of colorectal cancer increases as people age. Colorectal cancer can occur in young adults and teenagers, but more than 90 percent of colorectal cancers occur in people over age 50, while the average age of diagnosis in the U.S. is 72.
Colorectal cancer is more likely to develop in a person whose parents, siblings, or children have had colorectal cancer. The chances increase if the family member was diagnosed with colorectal cancer before age 60. Members of families with certain uncommon inherited conditions also have a significant increased risk of colorectal cancer. Having a personal history of certain cancers such as ovary cancer and uterus cancer increases one's risk of cancer too.
Having IBD, (inflammatory bowel disease) or Adenomatous polyps (also known as adenomas) have also been linked to those diagnosed with colon cancer. IBD is not the same as Irritable Bowel Syndrome. IBD is an inflammatory disease in the colon whereas Irritable Bowel Syndrome deals with the mechanisms of the colon. People with IBD suffer from diseases such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease and may develop chronic inflammation of the large intestine which ultimately increases the risk of colon cancer. Adenomatous polyps (adenomas): Having polyps does not mean an individual has cancer, but some types of polyps called adenomas are most likely to develop into colorectal cancer.
The good news is that polyps can often be completely removed using a tool during a colonoscopy. Individuals who have had adenomas have a greater risk of additional polyps and of colon cancer and should have follow-up screening tests regularly.
Studies indicate that race has also been linked to the likelihood of an individual’s chance of developing colon cancer. Black people have the highest rates of sporadic (non-hereditary) colorectal cancer in the United States, and colon cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths among the black population. Since it has been noted that black people are more likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer at a younger age, the American College of Gastroenterology has suggested screening them with colonoscopies at the age of 45. Earlier screening is strongly suggested because it may detect colon abnormalities at a more treatable stage, which in turn provides a higher change for surviving the disease.
In the next installment, we'll discuss lifestyle changes that you can control to lower your risk of colon cancer.