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Colon and Rectal Cancer: Get Yourself Tested

Get yourself tested. Get yourself tested. Physicians, television programs, and magazines repeat this over and over in order to increase public awareness of colon and rectal cancer. Unfortunately, most Americans who should be screened for this deadly cancer do not, even though early screening is an extremely effective way to avoid death from this disease.

Colon and rectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United Stated with almost 150,000 Americans diagnosed each year. Unfortunately, many of the over 50,000 deaths each year could have be avoided – effective screening programs have been designed to find and then treat colon cancer. Some risk factors you may not be aware of include being overweight and a history of smoking. Patients often do not seek screening because they are not aware of the options for testing that are available.

Most physicians today will recommend a colonoscopy starting at age 50 for perfectly healthy patients. This test is very effective and patients tolerate it well in the outpatient setting. Small, pre-cancerous growths called polyps, if found, can be safely removed and will prevent what would have been the development of a future cancer. This is because most polyps usually grow slowly and have not yet turned into cancer. If you have a family history of colon cancer or have a history of inflammatory bowel disease you should let your doctor know.

Newer tests you may have heard of are currently being developed including virtual colonoscopy and DNA testing for the detection of colon cancer. Enhanced standard colonoscopy using special dyes can be used to highlight abnormal tissue and newer high magnification tools are being studied. These techniques have not yet been recommended by the American Cancer Society so most doctors are not yet using them. While these tests and others hold great promise for the early detection of colon cancer, no patient who is eligible to be tested should delay their screening – it may save your life!

Talk to your doctor about whether you should be tested and what options for testing are most appropriate for you.

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