Women and colon cancer: It’s good to be in control
Dr. Monica Borkar
Updated: March 11, 2013 12:46PM
Women typically like to know, plan and arrange everything ahead of time.
That can be a good thing, especially when it comes to the third leading cause of female cancer deaths in the country.
Women under 50 often think, “But I’m too young to get colon cancer.” The reality is it’s more prevalent than you think. And just 52 percent of women who should be getting screened actually are, leaving a startling 48 percent at an increased risk. Although colon cancer is seen most often in women over 50, there are several ways to dramatically decrease your chances of getting it before you even reach the big birthday.
Studies have shown that women, especially African Americans, are getting diagnosed more often in their 40s. But prevention starts well before then. Simple actions like watching what you eat, including limiting red or processed meat and increasing your fiber intake can dramatically reduce your risk of testing positive for colon cancer. Limiting alcohol intake to one drink a day and exercising regularly can help too. Smoking has never been good for the body, so it’s best to kick the habit.
But the best act of control? Getting tested. The word “colonoscopy” can make us cringe, but the actual procedure is far less uncomfortable than you may think. In fact, the scariest part is often convincing ourselves it’s worse than it really is.
Although 50 is the recommended age to begin screening, it’s best to be proactive and do some family research first. Did your grandmother have colon cancer? Your great-aunt? Chances of you getting diagnosed are higher if it has run in your family, so consult with your physician to discuss when to have your colonoscopy. In addition to your family history, pay attention to warning signs. Any blood in your stool, severe stomach cramping, change in bowel habits or extreme fatigue is your body’s way of asking for help.
Women tend to develop flatter, harder polyps higher up in the colon (also called the large intestine) than men, which can be trickier to detect. While several testing options are available, the colonoscopy is the most thorough and accurate way to screen the entire length of the colon.
The other good news is that if colon cancer is caught early, there is a high chance of recovery. Even in Stage 1, the average survival rate is over 90 percent at five years.
So keep up the good work in planning for the weekend with family and friends, or a trip to the gym, salon or spa. While you’re at it, why not do the same preparation for your body? You only get one of those. ~>~.
Borkar is a board-certified gastroenterologist at NorthShore University HealthSystem. For more information, visit www.northshore.org/gi.