Column: Tiny things lead to big problems

AA HEALTH 0329 colon cancer column
Dr. Terry Layman

Commentary by Dr. Terry Layman 

A smile. A sigh. A decimal point. A nail in a tire. On the surface, these all sound like little things, but if they go unnoticed, they cause big problems.

The little things truly matter. This is especially true in our fight to prevent colon cancer. Taking the time to prep for and complete a colonoscopy procedure sometimes feels like more trouble than it’s worth. It might feel like another little thing you can push back on your to-do list. Yet, colon cancer will impact about 1 out of every 24 individuals in their lifetime. It’s also the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., resulting in about 50,000 deaths in the U.S. every year.

But this isn’t a “gloom and doom” message – colon cancer is almost completely preventable.

This is where the little things come in. Colon cancer almost always starts as tiny mushroom-looking, pre-cancerous growths called “polyps” which, over a five- to 10-year period, may evolve into cancer. Fortunately, these can be easily removed during a colonoscopy. So, a colonoscopy not only serves as a cancer screening technique, but also a cancer prevention technique. I think of it as preventive maintenance rather than a cancer screening. There are other simple steps you can also take for colon cancer preventive maintenance, such as moderating alcohol consumption, eating less red meat and maintaining a healthy weight.

 As we roll through Colon Cancer Awareness Month in March, I encourage everyone over 45 years of age to consider getting screened. Screening for colon cancer can take on many forms or strategies, including:

  • A colonoscopy, imaging or specific stool testing.
  • Have a conversation with your health care provider to determine a screening and prevention strategy that works best for you.

And for my clinical colleagues out there, this is a good time for you to highlight another little thing to the patients you see this month: The United States Preventive Services Task Force USPSTF recently moved the colon cancer screening age down from 50 to 45. So, start those conversations a little earlier.

Dr. Terry Layman is the senior vice president and corporate medical director of Marathon Health. He is a board-certified family physician with more than 20 years of experience as a primary care provider. He is a graduate of the Indiana University School of Medicine and is also a member of the American Medical Association, the Indiana State Medical Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians.