Simple Screening To Save Lives

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper greets President Bush upon his arrival for the North American Leaders summit in Montebello, Quebec, Monday, Aug 20, 2007.
AP Photo/CP, Tom Hanson
Colon cancer is one of the deadliest diseases to affect Americans, but a majority of people diagnosed with it could be saved if they simply get screened.

For that reason, the American Cancer Society has designated March as National Colorectal Cancer month.

The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports that an average of 57,000 Americans die each year from the cancer. Cancer of the colon, while quite deadly, is highly treatable when caught in the early stages. More than 90 percent of patients with the cancer could be cured with early detection, according to the Cancer Society.

But when colon cancer is caught late, it is survivable only 8 percent of the time.

Perhaps the reason why some don't undergo the simple screening is because the process for testing can be quite invasive, says Dr. Senay. Patients are administered a colonoscopy, the most thorough test available — requiring the patient to fast and take a large dose of laxative, and then be put under anesthesia for the procedure. A physician uses a camera on a flexible hose to look inside the patient's colon.

There are other tests offered, such as sigmoidoscopy and fecal occult blood test. But, despite the discomfort and embarrassment of colonoscopy, more practitioners recommend it, says Dr. Senay. During colonoscopies, doctors remove pre-cancerous polyps, which can become cancerous. And it's certainly less painful or uncomfortable than cancer.

The American Cancer Society recommends that anyone over 50 and at average risk for developing colon cancer be tested. If nothing abnormal is found, they should be checked in another 10 years. For adults at high risk, meaning they have a history of the disease, or polyps have been found in their colon, or if they are smokers, they should start testing around 40 years old, and then continue every five years or so.

To help prevent colon cancer, Dr. Senay recommends people to stop smoking. According to studies, people who quit smoking, eat healthy and exercise are able to cut their chance of dying of cancer by a third. Studies also found that the biggest cuts in cancer deaths would be in lung and colon cancers, two of the top killers.