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Colonoscopy saves lives

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Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death among men and women in the United States, but some colon cancers can be prevented with regular testing.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so there couldn’t be a better time to learn the facts about colon cancer and get tested. It could save your life.

Did you know that the rate of colorectal cancer (commonly known as colon cancer) has been decreasing for most of the past two decades?

One reason is because more people are getting screened for this disease, which is preventable, treatable and beatable.

Colon cancer, which almost always starts with a polyp — a small growth on the lining of the colon or rectum — does not usually cause symptoms until it is in a more advanced stage. Colon cancer screening can find and remove these growths before they turn into cancer.

But, many people are not getting the tests that could save their lives — perhaps because the procedure seems embarrassing.

But colon cancer screening tests aren’t that bad. Two different types of screening tests are available — those that find cancer and polyps and those that mainly find cancer and are less likely to find polyps.

Finding and removing polyps before they become cancerous stops colon cancer before it starts. Talk to your doctor about which test is right for you. Colonoscopy is often recommended because it looks at the entire colon, and because if a polyp is found, it can be removed during the procedure. Colonoscopy can be somewhat uncomfortable, but it is not painful.

If you are 50 or older, the American Cancer Society recommends that you talk to your doctor about getting tested, even if you have no symptoms of the disease. And if a parent or sibling has had colon cancer, you may need to start testing younger than 50.

If people got tested regularly when they should, half of all colon cancer deaths could be prevented. When colon cancer is found early and treated, the five-year survival rate is 90 percent.

Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle by eating lots of fruits and vegetables, limiting red and processed meat, limiting alcohol intake, being physically active most days of the week, and quitting or avoiding smoking will reduce a person’s risk of developing many cancers, including colorectal cancer.

For more information about steps you can take to prevent colon cancer, call the American Cancer Society at (800) 227-2345 or visit cancer.org/colon.

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