Colon Cancer Awareness Month: Screenings are easier, and spotting early signs is key

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Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of death in America for both men and women, and more cases are being diagnosed every year. The increase is due partly because more people are being screened, and for other reasons doctors can't yet pinpoint, like diet and environment.

This, doctors say, is why it's so important to pay attention to your body and get a colonoscopy if something doesn't seem right.


March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, so it's a great time to get some questions answered.

Dr. Hadi Najafian, a colorectal surgeon in the west Valley, said the latest data shows one in 22 people will get colon cancer.

The good news is colon cancer is very treatable when diagnosed in its early stages, and colonoscopies are the "gold standard" for both diagnosing and treating the disease.

[RELATED: Mesa hospital holds 2 free events for Colorectal Cancer Awareness month]

Even with more discussion about colon cancer, Najafian said a lot of people just aren't comfortable talking about their colon. "You have to look at the benefit. When you compare the benefit to the embarrassment, I mean, God forbid we see something there," he said.

If the "prep" has you concerned, he says that, too, has come a long way. Many offices no longer use that thick, jello-like prescription laxative. Najafian's office uses Miralax and Gatorade.

Identifying problems early is the key to successful treatment. Here are the signs you should watch for:

  • rectal bleeding
  • unexplained weight loss
  • prolonged change in bowel habits
  • a family history of colon cancer

Najafian said, "A lot of times patients will come in and say, 'Doctor, I have no symptoms; I have nothing. I'm totally fine,' and that's fine, but we don't want to see you when you start having symptoms. We want to see you before you have symptoms."

[READ MORE: Fighting colon cancer: What you need to know]

If treatment is needed, that also is getting easier and less invasive. Many cases only require laparoscopic surgery, and some can even be done robotically, decreasing incisions, pain, and recovery time.

Right now, colonoscopies are recommended for people over the age of 50 but he says more people are being diagnosed with colon cancer in their 40s.

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