The most common cancer in the United States is colon cancer, which strikes over 130,000 Americans every year; it’s also the second most often fatal form, with more than one in three patients dying of the disease within five years, 1,000 each week. Fortunately, colon cancer is also one of the easiest forms to diagnose, and as with most forms of cancer, the earlier colon cancer is detected, the more easily it can be treated. The best way to look for colon cancer is with a procedure called a colonoscopy, in which doctors use a camera to look directly at the colon and see if there are polyps or other indicators. If polyps are small enough, they can be removed during the colonoscopy. Screening is recommended every ten years starting at age 50, with earlier and more frequent screenings urged for people with Lynch syndrome or other risk factors.
Though colonoscopy is the most accurate and thorough form of screening, it is a medical procedure that requires the time and expense of any other doctor visit, as well as complicated prep beforehand and recovery time afterward. Other screening procedures include blood testing and looking for certain signs in stool samples. These samples are less accurate, but can now be collected using home test kits and sent to a laboratory or analysis to provide preliminary testing. People with a positive result on the home test can then get a colonoscopy to confirm it.
There are many reasons polyps might form. Recent research has shown a connection with the intestinal microflora found in the gut. These microflora are bacteria that ordinarily aid in digestion and supplement the immune system. However, these bacteria can also cause inflammation in people who are susceptible, which in turn triggers the development of polyps in the colon and other parts of the digestive tract that can turn into tumors.
Polyp removal is a relatively minor surgical procedure, but for more advanced or invasive cancers, more intrusive surgery may be needed, such as removal of sections of the colon or bowel. Researchers are looking into simpler treatments to fight colon cancer. Prevention is an important aspect of this, addressing controllable risk factors such as obesity and smoking. In addition, grape seed extract has been shown to help enhance the effectiveness of chemotherapy, meaning more colon cancers may be treatable without major surgery.