Colon Cancer Polyps

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Often, colon cancer begins as a small cluster of cells known as “colon polyps.” While benign at first, some of these polyps may become cancerous over time. Doctors routinely perform a colonoscopy to check for polyps once a patient is over 50 and they may advocate the removal of polyps, if found. While there is no guaranteed way to prevent polyps from turning cancerous, doctors say that early colonoscopy screening and a healthy lifestyle are the best ways to beat this deadly cancer.

There are many important risk factors for cancer of the colon that makes someone a good candidate for colon cancer screening. Age is one factor, as about 90% of people diagnosed with this cancer are over 50. People are also more at-risk if they have ever had colorectal cancer, polyps, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, acromegaly (a growth hormone disorder) or radiation therapy as part of another cancer treatment. Some studies have shown that a greater risk exists for people who eat diets low in fiber and high in fat/calories, or diets high in red meat/processed meats. Obese individuals and smokers have an increased chance of developing and dying from this type of cancer too. As with most health conditions, genetics also play a role in many cases.

Approximately 5% of all colon cancer is caused by a genetic syndrome passed through the familial line. These syndromes include FAP (familial adenomatous polyposis) and Lynch syndrome (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer). About 95% of the people diagnosed with either syndrome will develop colon polyps that lead to cancer. The good news is that both of these syndromes are detectable through genetic testing. The idea that someone without these syndromes will develop the cancer because an aunt, grandmother, sibling or parent has is still debated. Some say the family may have all been exposed to the same environmental conditions or unhealthy lifestyle.

There are many screening procedures for colon cancer. The most basic is a stool blood test (or a fecal occult blood test), which allows a patient to take a kit home, create a sample and return that sample to the lab, where a doctor will examine the results under a microscope. Similarly, a stool DNA test will send the sample kit off to the laboratory for more in-depth analysis, which may be able to indicate DNA mutations or tumors that indicate the presence of cancer. A flexible sigmoidoscopy takes just a few moments, and involves a flexible, slender, lighted tube being inserted into the last two feet of the rectum and colon to see if any colon polyps are present. A barium enema uses a contrast dye and x-rays to evaluate the lining of the bowels. A colonoscopy is similar to the sigmoidoscopy, but the instrument allows the doctor the ability to search the entire colon and rectum for polyps, rather than just the lower portion. Lastly, a virtual colonoscopy uses a computerized tomography machine to take images of the colon, which is a less invasive than a conventional colonoscopy screening.

For more information on cancer read Colon Cancer Facts.

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