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Colon Cancer: Risk Factors & Screening

Colorectal System Highlight

According to the American Cancer Society, about 143,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2013. Of those, about 51,000 will die from the disease. The lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about one in 20, but this varies depending upon individual risk factors.

Who's At Risk?

There are two risk factors for colorectal cancer that you can't control: aging and having a family history of the disease. Younger adults can develop colorectal cancer, but the chances increase markedly after age 50. About nine out of ten people diagnosed with colorectal cancer are older than 50. When it comes to family history, as many as one in five people who develop colorectal cancer have other family members who have been affected by the disease.

However, some risk factors such as smoking, eating a high-fat and low-fiber diet, physical inactivity, obesity and eating a lot of red or processed meat can be controlled by making a few lifestyle changes. Screening, especially for those at high risk for the disease, is very important.

Screening Saves Lives

Colonoscopies are currently the best method to detect and remove colon polyps. They are performed by a specially trained physician to diagnose and treat diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.

Regular screening can often find colorectal cancer early, when it is most likely to be curable. The majority of colon cancers begin as polyps, which are small growths on the lining of the colon. Colonoscopies can prevent cancer altogether because any polyps that are discovered can be removed while the screening is taking place, thus eliminating any chance that they can turn into cancer.

How Is a Colonoscopy Performed?

The day before the procedure, a clear liquid diet and a bowel cleansing preparation are used to clean out the colon. That is by far the most unpleasant part of the procedure, but perhaps the most important. A well-cleaned out colon will best enable the gastroenterologist to detect polyps, which can be as small as a few millimeters in size. Using a colonoscope — a thin, flexible tube with a digital video camera — the doctor is able to locate and remove any polyps in the colon. The patient is comfortably sedated while the colonoscopy is being performed.

It is recommended that people age 50 and over, and those with a family history of colon cancer, get screened regularly.

Drexel Gastroenterology

Drexel Gastroenterology expertly treats patients with digestive health disorders. Our regionally and nationally recognized experts work with your primary care physician to ensure the highest standard of care. Our patients have access to Drexel Medicine's Center for Digestive Health, which has been recognized for quality and safety by the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE) and provides outpatient colonoscopies in a comfortable setting.

The information on these pages is provided for general information only and should not be used for diagnosis or treatment, or as a substitute for consultation with a physician or health care professional. If you have specific questions or concerns about your health, you should consult your health care professional.

The images being used are for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted is a model.

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