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HEALTHBEAT 4: Detecting and treating colon cancer

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SIOUX CITY (KTIV) -- Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in men and women in the United States, excluding skin cancers.

The American Cancer Society estimates in 2020 there will be 104,610 new cases of colon cancer and 43,340 new cases of rectal cancer diagnosed in the United States.

"Diagnosed early, you can be fully cured of that cancer and you can lead a normal life," UnityPoint Health - St. Luke's Colorectal Surgeon Dr. Gokul Subhas said. "There are currently more than one million colon cancer survivors right now in the US."

Colon cancer is a diagnosis about one in 23 men and one in 25 women will hear in their lifetime.

"Colon cancer or colorectal cancer is a cancer in anywhere from, starting from the first part of your colon and cecum to your rectum," Subhas said.

So what should you be on the lookout for?

"Most important symptom to look out for or worry about is rectal bleeding," Dr. Subhas said. "The others would include anemia for which there is no good explanation. If they have unexplained weight loss. If they have abdominal pain for no good reason or if there is changes in bowel habits, mostly if they start getting constipated for no reason."

If you experience these warning signs, and are over the age of 40, Dr. Subhas said that would be reason to check for colon cancer with a colonoscopy.

"So colonoscopy looks at the inner lining of the colon and we see some abnormal growth in that inner lining," Dr. Subhas said. "Most of the time we do screening colonoscopy because the colon cancer starts off as a polyp."

Dr. Subhas said over time, some types of polyps can turn into cancer. But, not all polyps become cancer.

So they want to identify them with the screening and try to remove them early.

He said it's important to know your family history and to live a healthy lifestyle.

"Eating more fruits and vegetables, avoiding processed meat, avoiding red meat," Subhas said. "Trying to lead a healthy lifestyle with some exercise. Trying not to be obese. All these things will help prevent developing colon cancer. Also getting a screening colonoscopy."

Dr. Subhas said it's recommended to have a screening once you turn 50 years old.

If you are in the average risk category, you should continue getting screenings every 10 years, provided no polyps are found, and if there are no warning symptoms.

If you are high risk, such as having a history of colon cancer, he said you should get it done sooner and more often.

Michaela Feldmann

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