OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, a perfect time to remind people about the importance of life-saving screenings.
It's estimated that 150,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with colon cancer this year and 49,000 will die from the disease. But regular screenings can go a long way toward preventing the cancer from developing in the first place.
The Digestive Health Center in Ocean Springs is spreading the word about Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Doctors like gastroenterologist, Dr. John McKee, want more people to get regular screenings. "Over 50% of people over age fifty are getting screened but our goal in the state, the state medical association, is at least 70%, but ideally we'd like to have 100%."
Dr. McKee says that's because screening with colonoscopies saves lives, often detecting potentially dangerous polyps that over time, may turn into cancer. "We know that if we take the polyps out we decrease significantly the risk of ever having cancer. "
74-year-old Marie Anglin of Vancleave learned the hard way just how important it is to have colonoscopy screenings. Doctors located a cancerous tumor during her colonoscopy thirteen years ago. Surgery saved her life. Anglin now makes sure she gets regular screenings. "They're very important. If I hadn't had it I probably would've died of colon cancer."
And Dr. McKee says research shows colonoscopies reduce colon cancer cases, and deaths, significantly. "We're not only able to reduce the likelihood of advanced lesions by 90%, we can decrease the death rate by 55%."
Who should be screened with colonoscopies? Dr. McKee says, "Anyone over the age of 50. And if there is cancer in the family, specifically colorectal, then you should start at age 40."
He also says there's a new and improved stool test called Cologuard that has a high rate of detection. "It looks for blood, but more specifically for genetic mutations that tell us cancer is present; and the test is 92% sensitive to cancer."
As far as prevention beyond getting regular screenings, Dr. McKee says many people can reduce their risk of colon cancer by eating healthier diets. He says the increase in obesity has led to more cases of polyps and colon cancer.