Living with cancer blog

Colon cancer prevention — Screening is vital

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. March 20, 2012

This week I would like to talk about colon cancer. As a survivor, paying attention to regular cancer screening is very important. Remember that developing a second cancer is possible. People at higher risk for developing colon cancer may have a history of inflammatory bowel disease, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.

The two most common inherited syndromes linked with colorectal cancers are familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), also known as Lynch syndrome. FAP is caused by changes (mutations) in the APC gene that you inherit from your parents.

Women with HNPCC have a very high risk of developing cancer of the lining of the uterus (endometrium). Other cancers linked with HNPCC include cancer of the ovary, stomach, small bowel, pancreas, kidney, brain, ureters (tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder) and bile duct.

It's important to know that colon cancer can be prevented with screening and removal of any growths (or polyps) before they develop into cancer. Normally, screening should start at age 50. However, if you have a higher risk or a family history, you may need to be screened at a younger age.

Some of the ways that you can be screened for colon cancer include stool tests to check for blood (fecal occult blood test), sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, double-contrast barium enema and virtual colonoscopy (CT colonography).

Recently new methods of screening, including stool DNA (sDNA) testing, have been discussed in the news. The sDNA test identifies abnormal changes (markers) in the cells that are shed from the lining of the colon and can lead to early detection of polyps and colon cancer. This noninvasive test is still pending approval by the Food and Drug Administration. However, research shows that the test accurately detects colon cancer at early stages and precancerous polyps. Look for updates on the new sDNA test on

Work with your health care provider to find out what your personal risk is and how often you should be screened. What has been your experience?


Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

March 20, 2012