Early Detection of Colon Cancer Can Save Lives

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Early detection of colon cancer screening can save livesMADISON - Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Many of these deaths could have been prevented if the cancer had been found in the early stages.


According to Patrick Pfau, MD, Chief of Clinical Gastroenterology in the Gastroenterology and Hepatology section at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, "Colon cancer can be prevented almost entirely if colon polyps are detected and removed at an early stage."


Colorectal cancer refers to both cancer in the colon and in the rectum. Because these two forms of cancer have similar features, they are referred to together as colorectal cancer. Often, colorectal cancers begin as small growths, or polyps, in the lining of the intestine. In early stages, these polyps rarely cause any symptoms. Left unchecked, however, polyps can continue to grow and may eventually turn into cancer.


"Colon cancer develops from colon polyps," explained Dr. Pfau. "Screening allows for the removal of pre-cancerous polyps before they can grow and develop into a cancer."


Routine exams are critical for identifying the disease in the early stages. There are four basic ways to screen for colorectal cancer:

  • Stool test - to check for blood
  • Sigmoidoscopy exam - a test that uses a flexible small camera to look at the lower part of the colon
  • Colonoscopy exam - a test that uses a longer flexible small camera to look at the entire colon 
  • CT colonography exam – a test that uses CT images and a small tube inserted into the rectum to look at the entire colon (also known as virtual colonoscopy)

The American Cancer Society recommends that men and women who are at average risk for colorectal cancer undergo routine screening beginning at age 50. For those at higher risk, the screening should begin at an earlier age and occur more frequently. Certain factors can increase the risk of developing the disease, including: 

  • Personal history of colorectal cancer or non-cancerous polyps 
  • History of chronic inflammatory bowel disease 
  • Strong family history of colorectal cancer or polyps 
  • Known family history of hereditary colorectal cancer syndromes

Patients should speak with their doctor about risk factors and what exams are best for them.


"Early detection and regular screening is key," said Dr. Pfau.


Date Published: 10/21/2008

News tag(s):  digestive health

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