Colon cancer is very treatable – if caught early

Michelle M Olson, MD, director, General Residency Surgery Program at Carle, (pictured here) is passionate about colon cancer screening because of her father’s experience.

She recalled, “I was a resident when my father had a routine screening colonoscopy. At that exam, his doctor found a very large growth. He had absolutely no symptoms. The growth in his colon was so large that it couldn’t be removed during the colonoscopy. He needed surgery. We were so relieved when we learned that the growth was only a large precancerous polyp."

"If it had not been for his routine exam, he might not have been so lucky.”

According to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS), most colon cancers start as non-cancerous growths called polyps. Screening allows the physician to find polyps in the precancerous phase that can be removed lowering the chances of cancer.

The ASCRS recommends:

  • A digital rectal exam and fecal occult blood test, beginning at age 50.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy (a test that allows the physician to look directly at the lining of the lower colon and rectum) every five years beginning at age 50.
  • A colonoscopy every 10 years. 

Our nine gastroenterologists and four colorectal surgeons at Carle are all fellowship trained and board certified. They are experts in catching and treating colon cancer,” Olson added.

“People with a personal or family history of colorectal polyps or cancer, those with a personal history of breast, uterine or ovarian cancer, and those with chronic ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease have higher risk for colon cancer,” Olson said. “Increased-risk patients may need earlier and more frequent screening if their doctor recommends it.”

Everyone can take action to prevent colorectal cancer. People should:

  • Avoid high-fat foods.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits and other high-fiber foods.
  • Exercise and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Avoid tobacco use.
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation.

Dr. Olson concluded, “If we catch colorectal cancer before someone has symptoms the cure rate is 80-percent. But, in order to catch the cancer early, people need to get tested. They need to talk to their doctor about colorectal cancer risk and testing.”