Colon cancer: Who is at risk and why?

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, also known as colon cancer or rectal cancer depending on where it starts.

According to Dr. Brian Van Der Linden, a gastroenterologist at LewisGale Physicians, colon cancer is the third most common cause of cancer deaths in men and women in the U.S. While this type of cancer is very common, it is also very preventable.

Take a look at this list of risk factors:

Risk factors for colon cancer (Copyright 2021 by WSLS 10 - All rights reserved.)

Dr. Van Der Linden said the biggest risk factor is family history. That is why many doctors like himself stress the importance of screening tests like a colonoscopy or stool test.

”So if someone has a family history they should be getting screened at an earlier age. Normally it’s recommended starting at age 40 or at least 10 years prior to the age of diagnosis of their relative, particularly first-degree relatives,” said Dr. Van Der Linden.

Dr. Van Der Linden also told 10 News 92% of colon cancers are diagnosed to people who are over the age of 50, but that doesn’t mean young people are in the clear. Hollywood actor Chadwick Boseman died at 43 of colon cancer in 2020.

The number of younger people with colon cancers has now doubled which is alarming but Dr. Van Der Linden said as a whole it’s still a low number.

He also said Boseman’s death put a spotlight on how this disease is impacting the black population because they are not getting screened as much as they need to.

“They’re having a diagnosis of colon cancer at a later stage and they’re dying from colon cancer at a higher rate because of that and so it’s very important for us to make sure all people are getting screened,” Van Der Linden said.

Dr. Van Der Linden said he and his office are doing what they can to break down some of the barriers like finances and mistrust.

If you want to get screened at LewisGale Physicians you don’t have to have a doctor visit with them beforehand to make an appointment for a colonoscopy.


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