As with most forms of cancer, the earlier colon cancer is detected, the more easily it can be treated. In fact, colon cancer is one of the most detectable kinds in its early stages, and one of the most treatable, with an estimated 90 percent of cases preventable with early detection. In fact, even though most cases are not due to genetic factors, there is some heritability, and one in 35 cases are due to Lynch syndrome, meaning that looking for people with that genetic condition can stop three percent of colon cancers before they even start.
For others, the best screening method is a colonoscopy. This allows doctors to use a camera to look directly at the colon, and see if there are any polyps or other signs of developing cancer. Unlike with other forms of colon cancer screening, precancerous polyps found during a colonoscopy can be removed immediately and, if necessary, tested in a lab. Other screening procedures include blood testing and looking for certain signs in stool samples, but colonoscopy is effective and safe. Gastroenterologists recommend screening every ten years starting at age 50, though people at high risk or with a family or personal history should be screened earlier and more frequently.
High risk, for colon cancer, includes having some form of chronic inflammatory disease in the colon, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, and radiation exposure in the abdominal region. Diabetics, obese people, people who lead sedentary lifestyles, and people with a low-fiber and high-fat diet are also considered to have an elevated colon cancer risk.
If any abnormalities are found there are generally several treatment options. Removing precancerous polyps before they develop into tumors, or cancer that is localized in a single polyp and that has not spread to the point where it attaches to the bowel is generally enough to completely eliminate the disease, though colon cancer is prone to recur. If the cancer has spread, the affected portion of the colon must be removed. In some cases chemotherapy or radiation therapy are used to destroy cancer cells if removal is impractical.