Medical experts agree the most effective way to reduce one’s risk of colon cancer is by having regular colon cancer screening tests beginning at age 50. But for some, screening at age 50 may not be early enough. For many more, there are additional ways to reduce the risk of colon cancer.
“Nearly 90 percent of colon cancer cases are in adults 50 or older, but for that other 10 percent it’s important to understand how family history and genetics can increase risk for colon cancer at a younger age,” said Dr. Clark Harrison, a gastroenterologist at Reno’s Gastroenterology Consultants and president of the Nevada Colon Cancer Partnership. “A family history of colon cancer or polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, or Lynch syndrome can all contribute to colon cancer in younger patients. Knowing a patient’s hereditary risk factors can help doctors determine the best time to begin screening for colon cancer.”
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death for men and women in Nevada and nationwide, but with proper prevention, screening and early detection, the risk of dying from colon cancer can be reduced by up to 70 percent. Colon cancer screening is recommended for average risk adults aged 50 to 75, or starting at 45 for African Americans.
It is recommended that patients with a family history of colon cancer begin screening for the disease ten years prior to the familial diagnosis. For example, if a patient’s father was diagnosed with colon cancer at 45 that patient should begin screening at the age of 35. Additionally, those with other hereditary risk factors should discuss earlier screening with their physician.
It is estimated that three to five percent of colorectal cancer cases are caused by Lynch syndrome, an inherited disorder that increases the risk of many types of cancer, particularly cancers of the colon (large intestine) and rectum. Genetic testing can indicate whether a patient is at higher risk for colon cancer due to Lynch syndrome, but the presence of the disorder doesn’t predict colon cancer.
There are a number of modifiable risk factors for colon cancer as well. Tobacco use and alcohol consumption both contribute to an increased risk. Additionally, being overweight or obese, a lack of regular physical activity, a diet low in fiber and high in fats and red meats, as well as low fruit and vegetable intake all contribute to an increased risk of colon cancer.
Information screening test options, along with a list of low-cost community health clinics and other resources for low-income and uninsured individuals, is available online at www.ChallengeNV.com.