ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Following the passing of Chadwick Boseman, you may be wondering: who is at risk for colon cancer, how can you prevent it, and what causes it?
News 8 spoke to a RRH gastroenterology specialist Dr. Patrick Okolo on Saturday to learn more. He says getting screened is crucial for preventing colorectal cancer, or catching it early on.
So how do you know when and how often to get tested? It depends on a few things. Firstly, age 54 is usually when the average, low-risk American starts testing. But, Ocolo said for African Americans, that will have to be sooner, like age 45. “There is a genetic component to it … there are these DNA repair genes which African Americans tend to have more of … they have this propensity to move forward,” he said. “Also the effect of socioeconomic stress in this country – you can take the larger conversation we’ve been having in the country and also fit it into the paradigm of colon cancer.”
Okolo said it’s important to have a conversation with your doctor about any other risk factors that might warrant you to get tested before age 54 – like family history, BMI (body mass index), or irritable bowel disease – often referred to as Colitis. “Whether its Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Colitis, these are patients at risk for colon cancer.”
While there are a few different options for screening, Okolo said a colonoscopy is the optimal form of testing – that test, you get every ten years. “We think that’s the most powerful … if we can get people to go to a colonoscopy then you get both diagnoses and action to save course of disease all at the same time.” He said other options are out there, but they are less effective, and as a result need to be performed more frequently.
Okolo said the disease can start off in a stealthy manner – it can be living in you with no symptoms until later stages. “Don’t wait for symptoms, just imagine that you are at risk based on your age,” he said. “The most common symptoms are either bleeding from the tumor – when you use washroom … and a change in the way that you are going to the bathroom, whether it’s an increase or decrease.” Other symptoms include sudden weight loss of 10 pounds, and weakness in normal day-to-day activities.
Ocolo said lifestyle and eating well, like watching your consumption of red meat, and avoiding food with nitrates, is especially important in prevention.