There are many different types of cancer, but not all are preventable or easy to detect. With March being Colon Cancer Awareness Month, several University of Minnesota Physicians (M Physicians) experts remind us of the importance of preventive screening. 

Colorectal cancer is very prevalent and is the second leading cause of death for cancer in the U.S. “We know that screening reduces cancer mortality, and it has produced a marked drop so it seems to have been a successful strategy. On a population-wide basis, it works,” said Robert Madoff, MD, M Physicians colon and rectal surgeon.

Screening is particularly important for those with a family history or patients with inflammatory bowel disease. 

“We really worry about people with family histories. There are inherited cancer syndromes and they’re mostly dominantly inherited. If one of your parents is affected, you just need one gene from one of your parents. There are things we can do to mitigate the risk, so knowing about it and knowing your family history is important.”

Dr. Robert Madoff

While family history is a strong indicator, it isn’t the only one. “An important misconception is that people are at low risk of developing colon cancer because they don’t have a family history. Yes, it’s true that a family history puts you at a higher than average risk, but if you look at the national population level, many diagnosed individuals do not have a history,” said Shahnaz Sultan, MD, MHSC, AGAF, M Physicians gastroenterologist. 

Receiving a cancer diagnosis before the disease is metastatic, or widespread, is crucial for survival. Like any aspect of medicine, there are always new guidelines and techniques being used to determine the best detection methods with evidence-based research. 

Screenings for colorectal cancer can change when new evidence or health trends emerge. For example, there has been an increase in colorectal cancers diagnosis for people under the age of 50. “If that’s the trend we’re seeing, then how best do we address that with guidelines?” asked Kimberly Viskocil, MD, M Physicians gastroenterologist. 

M Physicians experts collaborate to determine the best route for each patient and their specific situation. “Cancer treatment is really collaborative effort among subspecialists with involvement of gastroenterologists, colorectal surgeons, oncologists and radiation oncologists,” Dr. Viskocil said.

While colonoscopies are safe and effective, there are some barriers to convincing people that screening is necessary. Previous stories about complications, concerns about being sedated, time off of work and being afraid of the potential results are all practical considerations.

The risk of leaving cancer unchecked is too great, especially with preventive measures being so readily available. Physicians like Dr. Viskocil work to negate concerns when discussing the options with patients while also steering them in the right direction for their next steps. 

Finding out your family history and speaking with a primary care provider about your risk for colorectal cancer are simple steps that every individual close to the age of 50 should take.