March is Colon Cancer Awareness month and Edith Mitchell, MD, Director of the Center for Cancer Disparities and Immediate Past- President of the National Medical Association, recently participated in an ABC News Tweet Chat moderated by chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser on symptoms, prevention and treatment of the disease. Here are the highlights:
- According to the National Cancer Institute, colon cancer is the third most common cancer in men and women in the United States. It usually begins with a polyp in the large intestine or rectum.
- Risk factors for colon cancer include age and having family members who’ve had the disease a history of polyps or other previous malignancies.
- Risk factors can be decreased by adopting a low-fat, high vegetable diet, exercising and taking one Aspirin per day. Additionally, getting a colonoscopy and having polyps removed before they become cancerous is extremely important.
- Symptoms of colon cancer include blood in stool and abdominal pain, but Dr. Mitchell strongly encourages people to be screened before symptoms present. Colon cancer found early is highly curable.
- The American Cancer Society recommends screenings begin at age 50 for those at average risk. Colon cancer in African Americans tends to be more aggressive, occurs at a younger age, and is less successfully treated. This population should begin screenings at age 45. Those with a family history should begin screening at age 40, or 10 years before the youngest case in the immediate family, whichever is earlier.
- Colon cancer screening tests vary. Patients should discuss options with their doctor to determine the best mechanism.