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New guidelines aim to prevent colon cancer in younger people

Colon cancer is the third most common type of cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death in both men and women.

February 23, 2022
A light-skinned woman holds a cellphone in her right hand while standing in a daytime kitchen. In her left hand, she holds a clear glass with a green juice inside.

According to the CDC, colon cancer is the third most common type of cancer in both men and women and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, but it doesn’t have to be. Colonoscopies, the best screening tool available, are often able to prevent colon cancer, and now doctors are recommending the screening for people who are age 45 and over.

“We’ve known for a few years that the age of diagnosis is getting younger and younger,” said gastroenterologist Dr. Clayton Spiceland. “The change in the screening guideline to age 45 has allowed us to find precancerous polyps at a much earlier age and safely remove them before they become a cancer.”

During a colonoscopy, doctors use a scope to find any abnormalities in the colon. What makes a colonoscopy unique compared to other screening tests is that precancerous polyps can actually be removed during the procedure. “This can be a preventative test. We can remove those polyps and prevent a cancer down the line,” said Dr. Spiceland.

While preventing colon cancer is the ideal scenario, sometimes doctors do find cancer. Dr. Spiceland says finding cancer during a routine colonoscopy is better for patients than waiting until symptoms occur. “Colon cancer is a very treatable disease if discovered early, and colonoscopies are the way we catch it early,” Dr. Spiceland says. No matter your age, if you are having symptoms like changes in the bowel or blood in the stool, it is important to call your physician immediately.

While the benefits of colonoscopies are clear, Dr. Spiceland says there are many patients who delay their screening because it is an invasive procedure that hasn’t always had the best reputation. “Nobody is excited to come and get a colonoscopy, but the way the procedures are done now versus the way they were done even a few years ago is completely different,” said Dr. Spiceland. Anesthesia is used during the procedure so there is no patient discomfort, and the bowel preparations for the procedure have improved significantly.

“If you are age 45 or older, please talk to your physician about regular cancer screenings,” said Dr. Spiceland. “The first colonoscopy screening can be scary, but I always tell patients to remember that we are not just looking for cancer. This procedure has the potential to prevent it from occurring in the future.”

At TriStar Health, gastroenterologists and endoscopy teams work together to create a comfortable and relaxing environment for patients during their colonoscopies. With multiple locations across Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky, TriStar Health offers convenient access to this potentially life-saving procedure. In addition, TriStar Health is part of the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute network of hospitals with access to cutting-edge cancer therapies, clinical trials and the latest advancements in surgical oncology care.  If you are interested in scheduling preventative cancer screenings, like a colonoscopy, please reach out to your primary care physician or call (615) 342-1919.

February 23, 2022
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