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Colon Cancer Can Be Beaten With Early Detection

By Dr. James Morgan, Medical Director, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois

Besides skin cancer, colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer for men and women in the U.S. and a leading cause of cancer death. For certain minority populations, these numbers are even more staggering — it is the second leading cause of cancer death among Latino men. Meanwhile, African Americans are the least likely to be diagnosed early and have the highest death rate of all ethnic groups in the U.S.

Although millions of Americans choose to wait until they are sick to visit a doctor (or avoid going at all), there are countless reasons why you should make regular check-ups a habit.

Even if you feel healthy, it’s still important to visit your doctor before feeling unwell. Like many other forms of cancer, colon cancer usually has no symptoms in its early stage. The good news is when caught early, there’s a 90% survival rate.

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Unfortunately, 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. is not getting screened. If you are among those who have not been screened, talk to your doctor about what tests may be right for you. This is especially true if you are at least age 45 or have one of these risk factors:

  • Ethnicity: People of Ashkenazi Jewish, African American, Alaska Native or American Indian descent.
  • Personal or family history: Inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer, colon polyps, familial adenomatous polyposis or Lynch syndrome.
  • Diet: Eating a lot of red and processed meats and few fruits and vegetables.
  • Lifestyle: Obesity, physical inactivity, smoking and heavy alcohol use.

Of course, some people avoid seeing the doctor because they think screenings are unpleasant. If this is why you haven’t visited, understand there are several ways to screen for colon cancer — one of which you can do in your home. Others screenings also are less invasive than a colonoscopy and similar to an x-ray. Talk with your doctor about your options.

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Before your visit, take a look at the following colon cancer tests recommended by the American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Colonoscopy: An examination of the colon and rectum where your doctor can biopsy and remove polyps — small growths that usually cause colon cancer.
  • Fecal Occult Blood Test/Fecal Immunochemical Test known as FIT: An at-home kit you can perform and send to a lab for analysis.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy: A fairly quick, safe test performed at your primary care physician’s office without sedation.

Because March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois will be at the YMCA Wellness event 9 a.m. to noon March 23 in Springfield. Our staff will distribute FIT kits at no-cost along with educational materials to eligible individuals between the ages of 45 and 75, without family history of colorectal cancer, personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, previous polyps and previous colorectal cancer.

Now that you know the importance of getting screened and the tests available, call your doctor and schedule a visit. Your doctor can help you decide how best to get screened. There’s no better time than now.

Visit our website for information about colon cancer prevention and screening options.

The above material is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician. Physicians and other health care providers are encouraged to use their own best medical judgment based upon all available information and the condition of the patient in determining the best course of treatment.

A Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association