Posted: Monday, March 11, 2024

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, which makes it the perfect time to remind you that a colon cancer screening is one of the most important, life-saving screenings you can have. This is because, when caught early, colon cancer is highly curable. An estimated 3,460 people are expected to be diagnosed with colon cancer in our state this year, and an estimated 1,220 Tennesseans will die from the disease by the end of 2024. The good news is that colorectal cancer rates have been decreasing over the last two decades, in part because an increase in awareness has led to people getting screenings earlier, along with the ability to detect and remove colorectal polyps before they become cancerous. So, the simple act of getting screened for colon cancer could save your life.

“In our country there will be 106,590 colon cancers and 46,220 rectal cancers diagnosed in 2024. There will be 53,010 deaths,” said Blount Memorial gastroenterologist Dr. William Lyles. “We’re seeing an increased rate of colon cancer of 1 to 2 percent per year in individuals younger than age 50. And while experts are still assessing the reason for this, the screening age for colon cancer has now been lowered to 45,” he said. “Colon cancer affects both men and women from all ethnicities, however, it’s also one of the most-preventable types of cancer we treat. It’s not only just preventable, it’s curable when detected at an early stage. We know that the risk of colon cancer increases with age, particularly for anyone over age 45. The most important step you can take to prevent colon cancer is to begin getting screened at age 45,” he explained. “Most colon cancers begin as benign polyps, which gives us a chance not only to detect the disease in an early stage, but also to cure it. By screening and removing polyps early, we can eliminate most colon cancers,” he added.

Lyles says there are several types of screening tests for colon cancer, including flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy and testing stools for hidden blood. Newer tests are being developed all the time, and Lyles says most insurance companies in Tennessee will cover the cost of the screenings. However, Lyles says the traditional colonoscopy continues to be the preferred method. “The test has improved greatly over the years,” Lyles said. “Colonoscopy prep used to be the thing people had the most trouble with. Formerly, you would have to drink up to four liters of fluid before the screening, whereas now, in some cases, patients only have to consume around 10 ounces. You still have to drink large volumes of liquid, but most of it now is clear liquid that you get to choose. Fortunately, there’s also a new pill version of the preparation as an alternative.” he explained. “Medications for the endoscopy have gotten better, as well. With medications such as Diprivan or Propofol, you have almost no pain with the procedure. Also, with these medications, you will wake up almost instantly once the I.V. drip is gone, which makes you more coherent after the procedure. I think the procedure and the techniques have gotten much safer,” Lyles added.

“Colon cancer is a big problem, but it’s not something that we can’t get better at,” he said. “It is preventable, and we can make these numbers improve. I highly recommend you speak with your primary care provider today to determine which test is right for you. Doing so can help us detect the disease at an early stage when it can be more than 90 percent curable,” he explained.

For more information or to schedule a colon cancer screening, call Blount Memorial Physicians Group – Gastroenterology at 865-980-5060.

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