Stage 1 colon cancer has a very good prognosis, and stage 4 is pretty much a death sentence.
How long does it take to go from stage 1 to stage 4?
“The process of advancing from polyps to cancer can take many years,” says Dr. Neil Sengupta, MD, a general gastroenterologist and assistant professor at the University of Chicago, and GI Research Foundation Scholars Award Recipient.
“Once a polyp has turned into early stage cancer, it can also be several years before the cancer advances further into stage 4 or metastatic disease,” continues Dr. Sengupta.
“However, there are certain medical conditions such as Lynch syndrome [a genetic condition that, though symptomless, increases the risk of certain cancers], where the process can be accelerated significantly.
“Typically speaking, colon cancer screening (via colonoscopy) can prevent colon cancer by removing polyps before they turn into early colon cancer.
“In addition, colonoscopy can detect cancers early (when they are early stage) and more amenable to curative treatment.”
• So why do about 140,000 U.S. people get diagnosed with this disease every year?
• And why do about 40,000 die from it?
The answer is simple:
About 30 percent of U.S. adults who should be getting screening colonoscopies are avoiding this procedure, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This is why a stage 1 colon cancer tumor can seemingly zip in no time to stage 4 – though, as Dr. Sengupta mentioned, it typically takes years, barring Lynch syndrome.
Though millions of Americans do not have medical insurance and don’t want to pay out of pocket for the procedure, many more who are insured are just plain afraid of it.
The idea of someone “poking around in their gut” scares them. They may also fear an accidental intestinal rupture by the instrument.
Serious complications of a colonoscopy are rare, and are no excuse for avoiding the procedure.
• For the typical adult, screening should begin at age 50 and then repeated every 10 years.
• For those at higher than average risk, a discussion with their doctor is warranted to determine screening frequency. Check out the data below.*
• Average age of diagnosis is 67.
• 6.2 percent of U.S. cases are in people under age 45.
• 15 percent are in people 45 to 54.
No matter how healthy you feel or how well you take care of your body, you should get regular colon cancer screenings.
Then you won’t have to worry about how long it takes this killer to progress from stage 1 to stage 4. You are never too old for a colonoscopy.
Dr. Sengupta’s research interests involve optimizing the care and outcomes of patients hospitalized with gastrointestinal bleeding. Specific interests include GERD, colon cancer screening and fatty liver disease.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.