The health news of 2021 was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Its impacts – both direct and indirect – will be felt for years to come.
As a gastroenterologist, I have seen one of these indirect impacts first hand. As elective procedures were postponed due to the more immediate threats to health, many patients put off their colon cancer screening exams. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and is the perfect time to bring this important issue front and center.
Colorectal cancer is the most common cancer of the digestive tract and is the second most common cause of cancer-related death in the United States. It is also one of the most preventable types of cancer. In fact, 60% of deaths from colon cancer could have been prevented if everyone over the age 50 had a colonoscopy.
While there are a variety of tools to screen for colon cancer, colonoscopy is considered the gold standard. The rule of thumb was to get screened when you turned 50. Recently the U.S. Preventive Service Task Force and the American Cancer Society have begun recommending colon cancer screening begin at age 45 for average risk individuals, based on a higher number of people with early onset colon cancer.
No matter what age you begin, the importance of an initial colon cancer screening and adherence to screening follow-ups is critical to preventing colon cancer.
Other factors besides regular screening may also lower your risk of colon cancer. These include:
Gastroenterology practices and hospitals across the country have taken steps to make sure patients can receive their colorectal cancer screening in a safe environment from COVID-19. All procedural patients are required to test negative just prior to their procedure. If you have been putting off your colorectal cancer screening take the first step this month and make time to talk with your doctor.
Dr. Michael Golioto is a gastroenterologist at Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam and CT GI & Medical Associates in Hartford.