Healthy Mama: March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month

We know this isn’t always an easy topic to discuss, but it’s an important one and this month is the perfect time to talk about it. March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month which means it’s time to march yourself to the clinic for this important screening test, if you haven’t done it already. Why is it such a big deal? Because colon cancer is the SECOND LEADING CAUSE OF CANCER DEATHS in the United States.

We interviewed Dr. Natasha Nathan, a gastroenterology specialist with Mercy, to find out what we all need to know about the risks of colon cancer and about colonoscopies.

What factors increase a person’s risk of colon cancer?

The factors that increase your risk for colon cancer are:

  • Age
  • Diet
  • Lifestyle
  • Family History

What types of lifestyle changes can lower a person’s risk of developing colon cancer?

There are several good things you can do to lower your risk of developing colon cancer, but these three are the most important:

  • Eat foods high in fiber
  • Eat less red meat
  • Exercise MORE

What are the symptoms that might indicate a person has colon cancer?  (Are noticeable symptoms always present in someone with colon cancer?)

The symptoms you might notice include seeing blood in your stool, having an unexplained weight loss or seeing a change in stool size. Some patients might also have abdominal pain.

But it’s very important to know that some patients may not have ANY symptoms. That’s one of the reasons why testing is so important.

When should a person have her first screening test for colon cancer?  How often is it necessary to repeat the screening tests? 

Have your first test when you turn 50 years old, unless you have a family history of colon cancer OR you have had polyps or cancer in the past. If there’s past cancer or a history of it in your family, start having screenings at age 40.

What are the latest advancements in the detection of and/or treatment of colon cancer?

Some of the latest advancements in this field of medicine include improved stool tests as well as genetic tests. The great news here is that, with early detection, people with colon cancer live longer lives.

What do you say to patients who are fearful about getting a colonoscopy?  What information helps them overcome the natural tendency to procrastinate doing something that seems so unpleasant?

I let them know that our sedation methods have improved over the years which means there is much less pain associated with this test.

It’s also good to know that the preparation method required the night before the test has also improved. Some patients found it difficult to drink all of the prep liquids the night before their scheduled colonoscopy. There’s a new “split dose preparation” method that lets patients drink part of the liquid the night before and then the remainder the next morning. Ask your doctor about the split dose preparation method to see if this would be a good fit for you.

The most important thing I can tell patients about this test is that colon cancer is a PREVENTABLE cancer, and this test is the best tool we have that helps us Thusha_Nathan_1295718211prevent this cancer from taking a patient’s life. It’s as simple as that.

We want to give our thanks to Dr. Nathan for taking the time to answer our questions. For more info on Dr. Nathan or to schedule an appointment with her, call the Mercy Gastroenterology Clinic at 479-338-3030 or click here for more info. The clinic is located in the Physician Plaza at 2708 S. Rife Medical Lane (Suite 300) in Rogers.