Despite being one of the most preventable and curable cancers, over 140,000 new cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed and over 50,000 people die from this disease each year. One in 19 men and one in 20 women will develop it over their lifetime.
The American Cancer Society recommends a colonoscopy for everyone over age 50 and for high-risk people who are younger, yet fewer than half of Americans undergo the test. A colonoscopy looks for early signs of cancer in the colon and rectum, most forms of which are slow growing. As many as 95% of colorectal cancer cases are curable if detected early, and colonoscopy is an effective form of detection: a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine states that the death rate from colorectal cancer was cut by 53 percent in those who had a colonoscopy and whose doctors removed precancerous growths.
So who should get a colonoscopy? Both men and women are at almost equal risk for colorectal cancer, and those age 50 or older are at a higher risk. Other risk factors include a family history of cancer of the colon or rectum, and personal history of:
• Cancer of the colon, rectum, ovary, endometrium or breast, as well as polyps in the colon.
• Ulcerative colitis (ulcers in the lining of the large intestine) or Crohn's disease.
• Hereditary conditions such as familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC; Lynch Syndrome).
In addition to talking about a colonoscopy with your doctor, take a look at your diet and lifestyle: an estimated 50 to 75 percent of colorectal cancer cases can be prevented though small changes. Eat a diet that is high in fruits, vegetable and whole grains, such as the Anti-Inflammatory Diet; reduce your intake of red and processed meats; maintain a healthy weight; don’t smoke; drink alcohol in moderation; and enjoy regular exercise to reduce your chances of developing colorectal cancer or to keep it from coming back.