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Colon Cancer: A Common, But Preventable and Treatable Disease

Dr. Larry Antonucci's Blog Posts

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Colon cancer, a type of colorectal cancer, accounts for 10 percent of all cancer cases. In the United States, it is the third most common cancer in both men and women. Data published in a cancer statistics journal and shared in a recent report released by the American Cancer Society shows that the proportion of colorectal cancer cases among adults younger than 55 increased from 11 percent in 1995 to 20 percent in 2019. It is now the leading cause of cancer death in men younger than 50 and second in women younger than 50 in the U.S.

In recognition of March being Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, I contacted Raju Vaddepally, M.D., a hematologist-oncologist at the Lee Health Cancer Institute, to gain more insight on colon cancer.

“The overall lifetime risk of developing colon cancer is around 1 in 23 for men and 1 in 25 for women,” Dr. Vaddepally explains. “However, this risk can vary greatly depending on individual factors like age, family history and lifestyle choices. There are things you can control—the modifiable risk factors—and those you can’t—the non-modifiable risk factors.”

The modifiable risk factors include:

  • Diet, especially one high in red and processed meat and low in fiber, has been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer.
  • Weight – being overweight or obese increases your risk of colon cancer.
  • Physical inactivity is a risk factor for colon cancer.
  • Smoking tobacco increases your risk.
  • Alcohol consumption – heavy alcohol consumption is a risk factor for colon cancer.

Non-modifiable risk factors include:

  • Age – the risk of colon cancer increases as you age; most cases of colon cancer occur in people who are older than 50.
  • Family history – having a close relative (parent, sibling or child) with colon cancer increases your risk.
  • Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, and having it for a long time increases your risk for colon cancer.
  • Genetics – certain inherited genetic syndromes, such as Lynch syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), increase your risk.

“It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that you will definitely get colon cancer,” Dr. Vaddepally says. “Conversely, not having any risk factors does not guarantee that you will not develop the disease. However, being aware of the risk factors can help you make informed choices about your lifestyle and health.”

Dr. Vaddepally also stresses that colon cancer is a preventable and treatable cancer.

“Early detection through regular screening is crucial for successful treatment,” he says. “Screening is key and should start at age 45 with screening tests like colonoscopy, which can detect precancerous polyps that can be removed before they turn cancerous. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors because they may recommend that you start screening before the age of 45, and definitely tell your doctor if you experience any symptoms, like blood in stool, persistent changes in bowel habits, abdominal pain or unexplained weight loss.”

Being informed about colon cancer empowers you to take control of your health and make informed decisions. “Knowledge is power,” Dr. Vaddepally says. “By staying informed, getting screened regularly and addressing any concerns with your doctor, you can significantly increase your chances of preventing or effectively managing colon cancer.”

To learn more about the Lee Health Cancer Institute and colon cancer, visit www.LeeHealth.org and search ‘Cancer Institute.’ You can also search for Dr. Vaddepally while you’re there to learn more about his clinical training and expertise.

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