You’ll notice blue ribbons wrapped around fingers or hanging on bulletin boards all signifying the lives marked by colon cancer. Some are in loving memory of the lives that were taken by this disease, others represent a fighter or survivor. While awareness of colon cancer and colon cancer prevention is on the rise, colon cancer is still the third most common cancer diagnosis and third leading cause of cancer deaths. As we take this month to honor those that were lost, we also want to inform you about the risk factors and causes of colon cancer and how you can prevent a diagnosis.

Causes of Colon Cancer

Cancer is caused when a gene changes or is mutated. If our DNA changes in a way that increases the genes that multiply cells, but stops the genes that keep cell division under control, cancer is likely to form. In most cases DNA mutations are not inherited. In colon cancer, the DNA mutations are typically acquired over the course of someone’s life. However, there are a few instances in which a gene mutation is passed down to the next generation, causing a risk for colon cancer. These inherited gene mutations are often discovered in the form of familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), Gardner syndrome, and Lynch syndrome. Research is still being done to determine the exact causes of colon cancer, but if multiple family members have been diagnosed with colon cancer you should discuss your risk with your physician.

Risk Factors of Colon Cancer

The syndromes listed above are risk factors that are out of your control. Other risk factors that are often unavoidable include race, age, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Those who have already been diagnosed with either Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, or have Type 2 diabetes, face a greater risk of colon cancer. However, it is still possible to catch and treat colon cancer if detected early. Colon cancer is typically diagnosed in people over the age of 50, which is why colonoscopies are recommended after you celebrate this milestone birthday. Ashkenazi Jews have the greatest risk of colon cancer diagnosis in the world. And in the United States, African Americans currently have the greatest colon cancer linked mortality rate. Although these risk factors may be outside of your control, the opportunity for regular—and early—screening is not. If this list does not apply to you, perhaps you are at risk for colon cancer due to lifestyle habits, diet, or weight. Obesity puts you at a greater risk as does a sedentary lifestyle. We all know that “smoking kills” but did you know that your smoking habit increases your potential for colon cancer? And last, but not least, diet. A diet that consists mainly of high fat and highly processed foods with little to no fiber puts you at risk for colon cancer. The good news? These risk factors are within your control. You can adjust your schedule to include daily exercise. You can tweak your diet and add fresh fruits and vegetables, skip the fast-food, and put out the cigarette. These adjustments may help you lose weight, feel better, and prevent a future diagnosis. If you have trouble losing weight, find out if you may benefit from one of our weight loss procedures. It’s time to take control over your life—and over your health.

Colon Cancer Screening

Colon cancer screening is done by a colonoscopy. However, this intimidating procedure may save your life and should not be overlooked. In fact, the earlier you detect colon cancer, the easier it is to treat and you’ll join thousands of others who celebrate colon cancer survival! During the colonoscopy, patients typical do not feel any discomfort or pain. The purpose of a colonoscopy is to search the colon for small growths called polyps. Over the course of 10-15 years, polyps become cancerous which is another reason doctors encourage regular screening. If a polyp is detected, it’s removed during the procedure and tested to determine whether or not it is cancerous. This thirty minute procedure is well worth the chance to catch cancer early or remove the threat altogether.

If you are over the age of 50 and have not had a colonoscopy, don’t let this month pass by before you schedule an appointment! If you have concerns about any of the risk factors, or think you may need to be screened earlier than your 50th birthday, contact us at Cary Gastroenterology Associates today.