How Colonoscopies Can Reduce Your Colon Cancer Risk
- Chrissy Teigen, 37, TV personality and wife of John Legend, is spreading awareness among younger people to take the proactive step of getting a colonoscopy screening after her doctor informed her younger adults were being diagnosed more and more.
- Colon cancer cases have been on the rise in recent years among people younger than 50 and researchers are still trying to determine why.
- Colon cancer, or colorectal cancer, is a type of cancer that affects your large intestine (colon) or the end of your intestine (rectum).
- A colonoscopy is a procedure doctors use to screen for colon cancer by looking inside your colon.
In typical fashion, Teigen is drawing much-needed attention to an undesirable procedure that can help prevent colon cancer, especially amongst a younger generation that is being increasingly impacted.Read More
Teigen's doctor urging her to get a colonoscopy comes as an increasing number of people under the age of 50 are being diagnosed with colon cancer. A colonoscopy is a screening method that examines the colon to look for signs of cancer.
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"Soon there's going to be a very large jump in people my age and even a little younger getting colon cancer because we don't get checked. And we don't get checked because we're not told to," Teigen added.
The American Gastrointestinal Association lowered the recommended initial age for a colorectal screening from 50 to 45. However, experts recommend screening earlier for some people who may be at an increased risk of developing colon cancer.
Teigen also broke down what it was like to actually prepare for her colonoscopy.
"One thing that you always hear about is the crazy drink that you have to drink the night before. It's like very intense and [there's] cramping. And obviously, you have to get ready to have a camera up your butt," Teigen said.
The drink Teigen described acts as a laxative that helps induce bowel movement hours before the colonoscopy procedure.
However, Teigen said she's taking the pill version of the liquid laxative to prepare for her colon screening.
"So now I have to take these pills, a sip of water after every pill, and then a giant thing of water," Teigen said.
Understanding Colon Cancer
Colon cancer, or colorectal cancer, is a type of cancer that affects your large intestine (colon) or the end of your intestine (rectum).
The cancer starts when abnormal lumps called polyps grow in the colon or rectum. If you don't have these polyps removed, they can sometimes change into cancer. It takes up to 10 years for a colon polyp to become full-blown cancer, according to SurvivorNet experts.
Most colon cancers can be prevented if people are regularly screened. The screening usually involves a colonoscopy, in which a long thin tube attached to a camera is used to examine the colon and rectum. If no polyps are discovered, the next screening won't be needed for about 10 years.
"Lowering the screening age helps somewhat with this, but access to care is a real problem," Yeo added.
More on Colon Cancer
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- Can The Stuff In My Gut Cause Cancer? There May Be a Link to Increased Rates of Colon CancerHere’s What The Experts Say
- Colon Cancer Screening is Extremely Important; Guidelines Now Say to Start at Age 45 if There Is No Family History
What is a Colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is a procedure doctors use to screen for colon cancer by looking inside your colon.
This procedure requires your colon to be "cleaned out." To clear out your colon, your doctor will prescribe a "bowel prep," which is a liquid you drink the night before the procedure. The prep acts as a laxative that causes you to have multiple loose stools before your procedure.
Once your colon is cleared out, the gastroenterologist performing the procedure can have a clear look to evaluate if any polyps or masses are present.
Depending on the size and number of polyps found, it is recommended that patients undergo a repeat colonoscopy within three to five years.
Dr. Zuri Murrell, a colorectal cancer surgeon and Director of the Cedars-Sinai Colorectal Cancer Center, previously explained the colonoscopy procedure to SurvivorNet.
"When we see a polyp, we actually physically take the polyp out through the colonoscope," he explained.
"What does that mean? That means we basically put a wire through with a little bit of a little flange at the end and we pull the polyp out. Now, note there is no pain with that. Inside the colon, there are no pain fibers. So there's no pain," Dr. Murrell added.
The advantage of a colonoscopy is that your doctor can remove any polyps found during the test. Many colon cancers can be caught on colonoscopy before they develop, or when the polyps are small enough to be removed without surgery.
What are Colon Polyps?
A colon polyp is a small group of cells that forms on the lining of the colon.
When you have a colonoscopy, the gastroenterologist looks for polyps inside your intestine. Although polyps can't be felt, they can be picked up by screening tests before they cause a problem such as colon or rectal (colorectal) cancer.
A polyp that is found during a colonoscopy is removed, which can prevent the development of cancer. Almost all polyps that are removed are precancerous, meaning that they have not yet progressed to cancer.
Colon Cancer Appearing More in Younger People
Teigen is sharing her colonoscopy experience in part, so people know colon cancer is impacting younger people at increasing rates.
The average age people are diagnosed with colon cancer is 68 for men and 72 for women, according to the American Cancer Society.
The National Cancer Institute reports that since the 1990s, colorectal cancer cases have been rising among adults younger than 50. Research published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians found the proportion of cases in people younger than 55 years old "increased from 11% in 1995 to 20% in 2019."
"We know rates are increasing in young people, but it's alarming to see how rapidly the whole patient population is shifting younger, despite shrinking numbers in the overall population," cancer epidemiologist and lead study author Rebecca Siegel said.
Researchers are still trying to determine why younger people are being diagnosed in greater numbers. Some experts point to risk factors which include obesity, physical inactivity, and smoking as a possible explanation for the increase.
"We don't know for sure why we are seeing earlier onset and death from colon cancer," Dr. Heather Yeo, a surgical oncologist who specializes in colorectal cancers at Weill Cornell Medicine, told SurvivorNet.
"It is likely a combination of factors, including diet and genetics as well as access to care and some environmental factors," Dr. Yeo added.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
If you are facing a colon cancer diagnosis, here are some questions you may ask your doctor.
- What are my treatment options based on my diagnosis?
- If I'm worried about managing the costs of cancer care, who can help me?
- What support services are available to me? To my family?
- Could this treatment affect my sex life? If so, how and for how long?
- What are the risks and possible side effects of treatment?