Screening for Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers in the United States, with approximately 150,000 new cases each year. It's also the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the country. Colon cancer, when caught early, can lead to much better outcomes. That’s why early detection is key.

Early Detection Saves Lives

Dr. Jason Glass, a Gastroenterologist at San Juan Regional Medical Center, offers a variety of screening options beyond a colonoscopy. These include yearly stool-based tests like the FIT test, which looks for specific molecules released by large polyps or cancers, and Cologuard, which detects blood cells and genetic malformations every three years.

“The stool-based tests are really meant for average risk people,” said Dr. Glass. “The only drawback to that sort of exam is that if it is positive, you do have to get a colonoscopy.”

Who Should Get Screened?

Screening is not one-size-fits-all. It's tailored to individual risk factors, including age and family history. Traditionally, screenings began at age 50. But if you have a family history of colon cancer, the recommended age is 40, or 10 years before an immediate family member (parents, siblings or children) was diagnosed with colon cancer. 

Recent studies show an alarming increase in colon cancer among the 20 to 49-year-old demographic. Consequently, many professional guidelines now recommend starting screenings at age 45.

Warning Signs and Symptoms

“Usually colon cancer, unfortunately, is one of those cancers that is generally asymptomatic,” said Dr. Glass.

However, there are some things to watch out for. Dr. Glass says if you see any rectal bleeding, if you're noticing new abdominal pain or new constipation, or if your doctor checks your labs and notice that your blood counts might be lower than they normally are, especially if there's a low iron level in your blood, those should be considered warning signs that you should get checked.

“Usually if you get your appropriate screening at the right age, you should be okay,” said Dr. Glass. 

Remember, March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, a perfect time to consider your screening options. For any gastrointestinal concerns, don't hesitate to seek medical advice. Your health is too important to leave to chance. Learn more by visiting San Juan Health Partners Gastroenterology or calling 505.609.6349.

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