March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Lisa Pisney, NP, Gundersen Gastroenterology nurse practitioner, discussed Colon Cancer Awareness Month during this week's Medical Monday.
According to Gundersen, colorectal cancer-cancer of the colon or rectum-is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. Early detection is key, as treatment is successful with 85 to 90 percent of colon cancer patients living at least five years.
Beginning at age 50, both men and women should have a screening test. For those at average risk for colon cancer, a colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years. People with certain risk factors-such as family or personal history-may need a colonoscopy earlier or more frequently.
Colonoscopy is the preferred method of screening because it not only detects cancer but can identify pre-cancerous growths, known as polyps, and remove them before they turn into cancer. Colonoscopy is the only screening test that can remove pre-cancerous polyps and, therefore, decrease the risk of developing cancer.
Your primary care provider must refer you for a colonoscopy because family history and risk factors determine the timing of appropriate screening. Please talk to your primary care provider to help reduce your risk.
If you decline a colonoscopy, Fecal Immunoassay Test (FIT) is a reliable alternative that should be performed once a year. If there is blood found in your stool sample, a colonscopy will be the next step. At this point the colonoscopy is no longer a covered health screening, but a diagnostic tool that many not be covered by your insurance in the same way preventative screenings are.