While March might be colon cancer awareness month, Dr. Waqar Qureshi, professor of medicine and chief of endoscopy at Baylor College of Medicine, says any time of year is a good time to take a few simple steps towards preventing colon cancer. 

Educate yourself

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Education, screening and healthy eating are powerful tools in preventing colon cancer.

Colon cancer is among the most common cancers diagnosed in both men and women in the United States and the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.

Symptoms include rectal bleeding, pain and weight loss. But if symptoms are seen, it is likely the cancer has spread.

An easy, fast and painless way to screen for colon cancer is a colonoscopy. The procedure is used to find polyps (growths) in the colon and remove them before cancer develops. 

Know your family history

Know who has had colon cancer and at what age he or she was diagnosed.  This may play a role in determining what age you should begin screening and how often. The average age people should begin screening is 50 and then every 10 years. However, the first screening and frequency most likely will change if someone in your family has been diagnosed at a younger age. 

Talk to your doctor about your risk factors

Some risk factors include age, family history and your own health history of bowel diseases or disorders such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. In a small number of cases inherited gene defects or mutations are the cause of colon cancer.  

Get screened

The best method for screening is a colonoscopy. It takes about 20 minutes and is painless. During the procedure you are sedated and most people say they don’t remember a thing. The procedure involves the use of a colonoscope, a thin, flexible device with a small video camera. Doctors look for polyps and abnormalities on the colon wall, and if a polyp is found, it can be removed at that time, during the colonoscopy. 

Eating healthy

Eating fruits, vegetables and other high fiber foods as well as avoiding food that are high in animal fat can play a role in keeping your colon healthy. While eating a healthy diet is always suggested and encouraged, it does not completely eradicate your chance of developing colon cancer. That is why talking to your doctor and scheduling regular screenings are important to maintain. In fact those simple procedures could save your life.