I don’t know about you, but whenever I think of March, the first thought that springs to mind is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

Patients frequently ask me to be tested for whichever cancer they are particularly anxious about.  “Is there a test to make sure I don’t have early ovarian cancer?”  “Pancreatic cancer?”  “Lymphoma?”  I have to explain that for healthy people without any symptoms, there is no test that has been proven to find these malignancies early or save lives by finding these diseases.  In fact, for most cancers we don’t have accurate screening tests, and for some cancers it’s not even clear that finding the cancer early saves lives.

Colon cancer is a major exception.  There is very solid evidence that testing for colon cancer in healthy people with no symptoms catches colon cancer early and saves lives.  That’s why I bug my patients relentlessly about having a screening colonoscopy.

Who should be screened?  Everyone between the ages of 50 and 75, but those with a family history of colon cancer may benefit from earlier screening depending on the details.  And particularly healthy people aged 75 to 85 may benefit from screening as well.  For more details, I encourage you to click on the link to the US Preventive Services Task Force recommendations below.

Screening is usually done by a colonoscopy, and if the colonoscopy is completely normal, it need not be repeated for 10 years.  Though lots of my patients dread their first colonoscopy, they invariably tell me afterwards that it wasn’t that bad.  Anyway, a procedure once a decade in return for a practical guarantee not to die of the second leading cancer killer in the US is a pretty good deal.

I think what National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month needs is a snappy slogan, like “A Colonoscopy a Decade Keeps the Oncologist Away” or maybe “The Light at the End of the Tunnel is a Colonoscope”.

Learn more:

CDC Features:  March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

US Preventive Services Task Force recommendations on colorectal cancer screening

US News article:  Colon Screening: 5 Things You Need to Know