Colon Cancer Screening and Prevention

Colon cancer is the second most common cancer in North America and Europe. Most cases occur over the age of 50. The risk doubles every 10 years over age 50. The risk of an individual man or woman developing colon cancer is 6 % over the course of their lifetime. The risk is increased for patients who have a sibling or parent with colon cancer.

98 % of colon cancers develop from benign growths called polyps. Very large medical studies have shown that it takes about 10 years for a polyp to form and turn into a cancer. These studies also show that removing colon polyps will prevent almost all colon cancers.

The most effective screening and prevention procedure is colonoscopy in which the entire colon is examined and any polyps found are removed. Current guidelines advise colonoscopy at least once every ten years starting at age 50. Colonoscopy may be recommended at an earlier age in some patients, especially those who have a parent or sibling who had colon cancer younger than 60. More frequent screening may be recommended for patients with a family history of colon cancer and for those with a personal history of colon polyps, cancer or inflammatory bowel disease.

Alternatives to colonoscopy include flexible sigmoidoscopy, barium enema and virtual colonoscopy. These tests are less accurate than conventional colonoscopy. Form more information on colon cancer screening and prevention visit the American College of Gastroenterology web site: www.acg.gi.org