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If you are 50 years old or older, it's time to be screened for colon cancer.
That's the message the Kentucky Department for Public Health is sending Kentuckians in March as part of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Anyone who falls into this age group, or has a family history of the disease, should talk to a health care provider about colon cancer screening.
"Colon cancer is second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer-related death in the United States, but it doesn't have to be," said DPH Commissioner William D. Hacker, M.D. "If everybody age 50 or older had regular screening tests, thousands of deaths from this cancer could be avoided."
According to DPH, colon cancer is 85 to 95 percent curable when found early, underscoring the need for preventive health exams like the fecal occult blood test, flexible sigmoidoscopy or the colonoscopy. The screening will find any abnormalities or early signs of cancer, like polyps. When detected early, polyps in the colon, which often develop into cancer, can be easily removed during an outpatient procedure.
Both men and women are at risk of developing colorectal cancer and should be screened. However, DPH data shows that only 50 percent of Kentuckians who should have screening tests have had them. Kentucky also has a higher than average population with increased risk of colon cancer due to higher rates of obesity, diets high in fat and lack of regular exercise.
"Screening and early detection can save lives," Hacker said. "If you are 50 or older or have a history of colon cancer in your family, get screened. It's the best way to ensure your future health and well-being, avoid more serious complications and reduce the cost of health care."
According to DPH, screening is particularly important to prevention of colon cancer because the disease can have no symptoms. When symptoms do develop at a later stage of the cancer, they may include blood in the stool, cramping in the abdomen, changes in bowel habits and unexplained weight loss.
Individual risk for colorectal cancer may be higher than average if you or a close relative have had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer, or if you have inflammatory bowel disease, according to DPH.
"People at higher risk for colorectal cancer may need to start screening at a younger age or have more frequent tests than other people," said Hacker. "Talk to your health care provider about when you should begin screening and how often you should be tested."
Test your cancer IQ by taking a colon cancer quiz at www.preventcancer.org/colorectal.