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Q&A with John Wiscaver: Colon cancer awareness, regular screenings important, especially after 50

John Wiscaver is senior vice president and chief strategy officer at GlobalHealth.

John Wiscaver is senior vice president and chief strategy officer at GlobalHealth.

Colon cancer awareness, regular screenings important, especially after 50

Q: More than 95,000 new cases of colon cancer will be diagnosed this year, according to the American Cancer Society. Since March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month, how can Oklahomans ensure they take steps for early detection?

A: It's difficult to see the symptoms of colon cancer in the early stages, so it's important to schedule colon cancer screenings, as well as being generally aware about the disease. It's recommended to begin screening for colorectal cancer at regular intervals soon after turning 50, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's especially important to begin screening earlier if you or a close relative have had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer, you have an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, or you have a genetic syndrome such as familiar adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome). Scheduling screenings is the best way to decrease the risk of the third leading cause of cancer for men and women in the United States.

Q: What are the differences in each type of screening?

A: A colonoscopy is a procedure where a medical provider uses a long tube with a light and camera to detect polyps. Depending on your physician recommendations, this procedure is done every five to 10 years. If a polyp is found during the procedure, there's the possibility of instant removal. A fecal immunochemical test (FIT or iFOBT) identifies hidden blood in stool, which can be an early sign of cancer. The test requires a brush or card to touch a bowel movement, can be performed annually and can be done at home with no preparations. A flexible sigmoidoscopy procedure is performed every five years that detects polyps, which can be removed for biopsy. It varies from a colonoscopy in that it uses a shorter tube allowing the physician to see the entire rectum but less than half the colon.

Q: What are the risk factors and symptoms?

A: Diets high in red meat and fat, and low in calcium, folate and fiber may increase risk of colon cancer, according to the Colon Cancer Alliance. Also, inactivity and obesity has been linked to a higher risk of colon cancer — studies have shown that daily physical activity can decrease colon cancer risk by as much as 50 percent. Cigarette smokers also have an increased risk of developing polyps and colon cancer. The disease first develops with few symptoms. It's best to be proactive and schedule a visit with your physician. Symptoms can include a change in bowel habits, including diarrhea, change in stool consistency or finding your stools are narrower than usual; persistent abdominal discomfort; and rectal bleeding, including finding either bright red or dark red blood in your stool.


Paula Burkes

Paula Burkes has nearly 40 years' experience writing and editing award-winning material, including since early 2001 with the business desk of The Oklahoman. After earning a journalism degree from Oklahoma State University in 1981, Paula wrote for... Read more ›