Q&A about colon cancer

Published Feb 26, 2017 at 9:00am

The Oneida County Health Department invites local seniors to assess themselves for colon cancer risk.

How does colon cancer compare to other types of cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society, for both men and women, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer (first is breast and prostate cancer, second is lung cancer), and the second leading cause of cancer deaths (first is lung cancer).  

What are the risk factors? 

• Age: Men and women who are age 50 or older have a greater risk than those younger.

• A personal history of colorectal cancer, intestinal polyps or inflammatory bowel disease.

• Obesity and physical inactivity.

• Long term smoking.

• Moderate to heavy alcohol consumption.

• People with diets high in animal fats.

• People with certain hereditary diseases.

What can I do to prevent colon cancer?

Get regular colorectal screening tests beginning at age 50, as directed by your health care provider. If you have a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps, or a personal or family history of another cancer or inflammatory bowel disease, talk with your health care provider about earlier screening tests.

• Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grain breads, cereals, nuts and beans.  

• Whole grain fiber reduces risk.

• Eat a low fat diet.

• Eat foods with folate, such as green, leafy vegetables.

• Limit your intake of red and processed meat.

• Drink alcohol only in moderation. Alcohol and tobacco in combination are linked to colorectal cancer and gastrointestinal cancers.

• If you use tobacco, quit. If you don’t use tobacco, don’t start.

What screening is available and why is it important?

There are several screening options. People should always talk with their doctor about which is the best option for them.

One option is a take home test that an individual can do in the privacy of their own home and mail into a lab for the results. This can be done yearly and it tests for blood in the stool.

Another option is a colonoscopy which will take a look at the inside of the colon to see if there are any ulcers, polyps, tumors or areas of inflammation or bleeding. How often an individual will need a colonoscopy depends on what the doctor finds. There are other options but these are the most common.  

Screening is so important because if done as recommended, screening can find and remove precancerous polyps before they become cancer. Any cancer found at an early stage, while still small and before having spread, are more easily treated. Half of all colorectal cancer deaths can be prevented by getting screened as recommended.  

Screening is the most important thing a person can do to prevent colorectal cancer.  

Who should get screened for colon cancer?

The chance of developing colorectal cancer increases with age. Current screening recommendations advise people to start screening for colorectal cancer at the age of 50. An at home screening kit can be done yearly. A colonoscopy is recommended once every 10 years for people who are of average risk. Others with a family history of immediate family members being diagnosed with colorectal cancer should also get screened. How early and how often should be discussed with a doctor.  

Do most people who should be screened get screened? Why or why not?

Approximately 69 percent of New Yorkers age 50 to 75 have been screened for colorectal cancer per current recommendations. For many people it is a lack of health insurance that keeps them from being screened.  

Is screening covered by insurance? 

With the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, preventive health screenings should be covered by most health insurances with no cost to the individual.

If I don’t have insurance or my plan doesn’t cover it, can I still get screened? How? 

For individuals who are still uninsured or who have insurance that does not cover it, there is assistance with screenings. The Oneida County Health Department’s Cancer Services Program of Oneida-Herkimer-Madison Counties offers free colorectal screenings for uninsured men and women ages 50 to 64.

To find out more information about free colorectal screenings, contact the Oneida County Health Department Cancer Services Program at 315-798-5248.