By: Dr. Henry Herrera
Absolutely! To explain, let’s begin by talking about what cancer is. Basically, cancer happens when cells in the body start to grow out of control. When cells grow out of control in the colon, small growths known as polyps form. These polyps can be divided into pre-cancerous polyps and polyps that are not pre-cancerous. Unfortunately, two-thirds of all polyps are pre-cancerous, which means they can eventually turn into colon cancer. These pre-cancerous polyps are called adenomas. Once you reach 50 years of age, your risk of developing adenomas increases drastically. In fact, 90% of all adenomas are found in patients over the age of 50. After the age of 50, most studies show that your chances of developing a polyp ranges between 30-50%. During a colonoscopy, if a polyp is found, it can be easily removed during the procedure. This eliminates the chance for that polyp to become cancerous. Studies have clearly shown that the risk of colon cancer drops by removing colon polyps.
Fortunately, small adenomas can take up to 10 years to develop into cancer. It’s important to keep in mind that the vast majority of polyps will develop without any symptoms. Even more concerning is the fact that even in early-stage colon cancer, there are usually no symptoms either! That is why getting your screening colonoscopy on time is so important. In 2018, the American Cancer Society changed their guidelines and now recommends colon cancer screening beginning at the age of 45. Insurance companies vary with regard to screening coverage, so contact your insurance provider to find out at what age you can begin preventing colon cancer!
Is there a topic you would like our healthcare experts to address? Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and you may see it addressed here in future Ask the Expert columns.