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David Mittleman
David Mittleman
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Colon Cancer Stealthy, but Deaths are Preventable

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Our country is a leader for advanced care. With highly skilled teams and sophisticated technology we are pioneers in treating disease. We must then wonder why colon cancer, a preventable and treatable disease, has grown to become the third most common form of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. The answer may lie in the insidious manner in which the disease progresses, and why preventative care is essential.

Cancer occurs when cells become abnormal and divide without control or order. Like all other organs of the body, the colon and rectum are made up of many types of cells. Normally, cells divide to produce more cells only when the body needs them. This orderly process helps to keep us healthy. If cells keep dividing when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms. This mass of extra tissue, called a growth or tumor, can be benign or malignant. Benign tumors are not cancer. They can usually be removed and, in most cases, they don’t come back. Malignant tumors are cancer. Cancer cells can invade and damage tissues and organs near the tumor. Also, cancer cells can break away from a malignant tumor and enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system. This is how cancer spreads from the original (primary) tumor to form new tumors in other parts of the body. The spread of cancer is called metastasis.

Many people with colon cancer experience no symptoms in the early stages of the disease, therefore most colon cancers are detected through preventable screening. Regular screening tests can help prevent colon cancer by identifying polyps before they become cancerous. Regular colon cancer screening should begin at age 50 for people at average risk of colon cancer. More frequent or earlier screening may be recommended if you’re at high risk of colon cancer. Screening may also detect colon cancer in its early stages when there is a good chance for cure. Guidelines issued in 2008 by the American Cancer Society, the U.S. Multi-Society Task Force on Colorectal Cancer and the American College of Radiology include several options for colon cancer screening.

Whatever test you and your doctor decide upon, the essential key is awareness. With proper screening, colon cancer can be detected BEFORE symptoms develop, when it is most curable. Prevention is key. Treatment can range from local excision of the tumor (in cases where the cancer is detected early) to more radical surgical options (in cases where the cancer is more advanced). In some cases, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or biological therapies may be used in addition to surgery. Lifestyle habits also play an essential role — eating a balanced diet, decreasing fat consumption, and exercising regularly can decrease the risk of colon cancer.

With these guidelines of preventive treatment and lifestyle habits we can reduce this deadly killer and increase our chances of taking colon cancer off the statistical chart as a leading cause of cancer-related deaths.