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Colon Cancer—A Problem Right Here in Augusta County
Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine, or colon, which is the lower part of the digestive system.
Rectal cancer is cancer of the last several inches of the colon. Together, they’re referred to as colorectal
cancer—the second leading cancer killer in the United States.
This cancer is equally common among men and women. In 2010, about 142,500 people were diagnosed
with it, and about 51,300 died from it. Here is the astoundingly sad fact about that—many of them did
not have to die. Medical researchers believe that if everyone aged 50 or older had the regular colon
cancer screening tests, 60% of these deaths could be avoided.
But how does that translate to Augusta County?
These are the late-stage statistics for the Augusta Health Cancer Center for cancer diagnoses for
malignancies that have good screening tests available. These are the percentages of diagnoses that
are already at Stage III or Stage IV at time of diagnoses:
Skin Cancer—6.5%
Prostate Cancer—6%
Breast Cancer—12%
Colorectal Cancer—48%
Again, these are cancers with good screening tests. When these cancers are found early, the chance
of being cured is good—especially for Colorectal Cancer. The fact that so many diagnoses are late
stage indicates a problem—in Augusta County, people just aren’t getting screened for colon cancer.
And this screening could save lives!
Who should be screened?
People who are at average risk for colorectal cancer should start having regular screening at age
50. Those at greater risk may need to begin screening at a younger age. The best time to be
screened is before any symptoms appear. This is because the early stages of colorectal cancer
usually do not have symptoms.
What are the risk factors?
 People who are age 50 or older, either men or women
 People who use tobacco, are obese, or have a sedentary lifestyle
 People with a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or benign (not cancerous)
colorectal polyps
 People with a personal or family history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis
or Crohn’s disease
What can be done to reduce the risks?
 Be physically active and exercise regularly.
 Keep a healthy weight.
 Eat a high-fiber diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
 Eat a low-fat diet, limit red meats and avoid processed meats.
 Do not smoke.
 Do not drink alcohol excessively.
What are the symptoms of colon cancer?
While it is possible for colorectal cancer to be present without any symptoms, it is important
that anyone of any age who has symptoms of colorectal cancer be fully evaluated with a
colonoscopy to rule out cancer. Waiting is not an acceptable option for those with symptoms.
Symptoms include:
 A change in bowel habits—constipation or diarrhea that lasts more than a couple of weeks.
 A feeling that the bowel does not empty completely.
 Bright red or very dark blood in the stool, black stools that may indicate hidden blood.
 Stools that look narrower or thinner than normal.
 Abdominal discomfort such as frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness or cramps.
 Weight loss with no known explanation.
 Constant tiredness or fatigue.
 Unexplained anemia (low number of red blood cells).
What screening tests are available?
There are screening tests that can find both the pre-cancerous polyps and cancer. The options are:
 Colonoscopy, every 10 years
 Virtual colonoscopy, every 5 years
 Flexible sigmoidscopy, every 5 years
 Double-contrast barium enema, every 5 years
There are other tests, but they mainly find cancer, not the pre-cancerous polyps. They are:
 Fecal occult blood test (FOBT), every year
 Fecal immunochemical test (FIT), every year
 Stool DNA test (sDNA), ask your doctor
If there is an abnormal result from a virtual colonoscopy, a double-contrast barium enema; or a positive
FOBT, FIT or sDNA—a follow-up colonoscopy should be done.
If you have questions about colorectal cancer or screening for colorectal cancer, please contact your
personal physician. You may also visit the Augusta Health website for more information: