Almost everyone we know has lost a loved one to cancer. The fight to defeat cancer continues daily. March is a month to recognize colorectal cancer. Blue ribbons show our support and awareness for those who have been diagnosed with or died from colon cancer. Colon cancer is often known as the sneaky cancer- unlike some cancers, there are often little to no symptoms until the cancer progresses. As we enjoy our school spring breaks, the first day of spring, and hopefully a little more sunshine, let’s support colorectal cancer awareness month.
Colorectal cancer is a cancer that starts in the colon or the rectum. It typically start as a growth on the inner lining of the colon or rectum, called a polyp. A polyp has a higher chance of turning into cancer if it is larger than 1 cm in size or if the polyp’s tissue is abnormal under a microscope. Even though polyps do not always turn into cancer, if they do, polyps can take up to 10-15 years to become cancerous.
Colon cancer can affect both men and women and is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. More than 90% of colon cancers occur in people who are age 50 or older. The overall lifetime risk of developing colon cancer is 1/23 for men and 1/25 for women.
The majority of cases of colon cancer happen randomly. However, if you have a strong family history of colon cancer or have a personal diagnosis of colon cancer and are under the age of 50, you may have a genetic form of colon cancer. A genetic form of colon cancer means that a gene mutation (or mistake in your DNA coding of your body) is passed from generation to generation in your family. Family members could potentially have up to a 50% chance of inheriting that gene mutation. If you were found to have a gene mutation, your risk of colon cancer, or additional cancers, would be higher compared to the general population.
While there is still a lot of research being done on colon cancer and the genetics behind both sporadic and hereditary colon cancer, we do know of quite a few well-defined genetic conditions associated with colon cancer. Lynch syndrome accounts for 3% of colon cancers and can also include uterine, stomach, and ovarian cancer. Familial Adenomatous Polyposis and Juvenile Polyposis syndrome are both conditions that can cause someone to have potentially hundreds of polyps in their colon, which increases their risk of developing colon cancer from those polyps.
Even though colon cancer can be sneaky, and the genetic forms of colon cancer increases your risk, luckily, we have great methods for screening of colon cancer. There are 5 main methods of screening, but we will focus on the golden standard, colonoscopy. Most people when they think of a colonoscopy think of wanting to do pretty much anything else other than signing up for this procedure. A colonoscopy requires drinking a liquid to clear out your colon, and then the next day having a colonoscope sent through your rectum and colon to look for polyps or any other abnormalities. While it may not be pleasant, this procedure can look for polyps and remove them, potentially saving lives. It is recommended to have a colonoscopy at the age of 50, unless you have a family history of colon cancer. In the case of a family history of colon cancer, you should have a colonoscopy 10 years before the earliest age of the person diagnosed in your family with colon cancer.
This March, let’s remember those that are fighting colon cancer, who have died from colon cancer, and those trying to cure it. Let’s celebrate all the progress we have made and hope that we can continue the journey to end colon cancer.
Advanced Tele-Genetic Counseling provides genetic counseling support for individuals who wish to know more about their specific risks for colorectal cancer or other genetic conditions based on personal and family history. Visit schedule.at-gc.com to request a genetic counseling appointment through telemedicine with an AT-GC certified genetic counselor.