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The Be Well Podcast - Samit Datta, MD

Listen in or read from the partial transcript below as Samit Datta, MD, Gastroenterology provider at Skagit Regional Health, discusses colon cancer screenings, common signs and symptoms of colon cancer to look out for, who should be screened, the possible risks and benefits and more. Amanda Wilde (Host): I understand colon cancer is one of the most treatable cancers, but it's still quite common, isn't it?

Dr. Samit Datta: So, it's fairly common. The lifetime risk in everyone in the United States is about 4%. It's the third most common cancer in men and the second most common cancer in women. And about 50,000 plus people die from colon cancer a year.

Amanda Wilde (Host):I think of colon cancer as sort of a sneaky one where you don't see symptoms until it's later on. What stage during colon cancer do symptoms appear and what are some of those common signs and symptoms?

Dr. Samit Datta: That is, I think, an accurate representation that it can be very sneaky. It usually doesn't present until it's a later stage. And it's typically around stage III or IV where the cancer would get big enough to cause symptoms. Before that, it's actually not causing any blockages or anything like that. So the symptoms can be very non-specific. As it gets towards those later stages, people may experience abdominal pain. They may notice that they're more constipated, that things aren't moving as well. Rectal bleeding is a common sign that does tend to occur more with later stage cancers because it wears on the wall of the colon itself to actually cause those symptoms. But really until then, people may not notice that they have it at all.

Amanda Wilde (Host): So you've answered the question why it's important to be screened for colon cancer. Who should be screened and when in your lifetime should you be screened? After a certain age?

Dr. Samit Datta: Absolutely. So everybody should undergo colon cancer screening. The age where people start getting their colonoscopies differs based on multiple factors. If there's no increased risk of colon cancer, which we'll talk about, then most people can start their colonoscopies at age 45. If they do have a family colon cancer, generally in a first-degree relative like mom or dad, then we'd recommend that they actually start having colonoscopies at the age of 40.

There are some genetic syndromes that increase the risk of colon cancer too. And those are a little bit more specific to individuals if that is present and they have a different schedule altogether, but those are the main categories for who needs to be screened.

Talk with your healthcare provider to learn more about colon cancer screenings.