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How To Reduce Your Colon Cancer Risk: A Conversation with Dr. John Randles

John Randles, MD

Every year, about 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Excellent screening procedures make this cancer highly preventable—and treatable when detected early. We sat down with Dr. Randles to discuss what you can do to reduce your risk.

TVC: Who is at risk of colon cancer?

Dr. Randles: It generally affects people who are over 50, which is why we start colon cancer screening at that age. If you have a family history of colon cancer, you should talk to your doctor about an earlier screening. African Americans may consider their first screening at age 40 or 45 since they are at a higher risk. Obesity, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease may also increase your risk.

TVC: How do you check for colon cancer?

Dr. Randles: A colonoscopy is the gold standard. It’s the only test that can both detect and prevent cancer through polyp removal. About 40 percent of men and 30 percent of women have polyps on their first screening. Colonoscopies increase the chance that doctors will catch issues early on, before you have colon cancer symptoms and when the chance of a cure is the greatest.

TVC: Are colonoscopies uncomfortable?

Dr. Randles: The worst part is drinking the prep that cleans out your bowels. The actual procedures is surprisingly simple. It takes just 25 to 30 minutes. Most patients drift off to sleep under sedation, breathing on their own. The health benefits are huge, and the risks small.

TVC: Are there any other screening options?

Dr. Randles: Stool testing can screen for blood in the stool or DNA from cancer. However, a variety of conditions can affect the accuracy of these tests. They usually test positive only when cancer is already present. A colonoscopy, on the other hand, can enable your doctor to remove the polyps that can lead to cancer. Another option is a flexible sigmoidoscopy, where a doctor only looks at the last third of the colon. But it’s no longer used routinely.

TVC: What are some colon cancer symptoms?

Blood in the stool, a change in bowel habits, weight loss, or abdominal pain are all GI symptoms you don’t want to ignore. While 90 percent of colon and rectal cancer occurs over the age of 50, new cases of colon and rectal cancer are occurring at increasing rates for those under 50. Everyone, no matter what their age is, should see their doctor if they notice concerning GI issues.

TVC: Is there anything I can do to prevent colon cancer?

Dr. Randles: Maintain a healthy weight, don’t smoke, and avoid consuming too much red meat or alcohol. Taking aspirin and eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and fiber may also protect you. Finally, get screened regularly. You should get a colonoscopy every 10 years if the first is normal, and at closer intervals if pre-cancerous polyps are found.

Dr. John Randles is a gastroenterologist at The Vancouver Clinic’s Salmon Creek location and has a special interest in screening for colon cancer as well as pancreatic and biliary diseases.