Throughout the month of March, the American Cancer Society will step up efforts to urge early detection for colon cancer during "Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month."

SORAPONG CHAIPANYA, ThinkStock

According to Dr. Arnold Baskies, vice chairman of the National Board of Directors of the American Cancer Society, there were approximately 4,300, cases of colon cancer in New Jersey in 2015 and approximately 1,480 deaths were reported.

Baskies, who also serves as a medical director at Virtua Health Systems in South Jersey, where he specializes in surgical oncology, said according to the ACS, if you look at one year, the number of people who developed colon cancer decreased by over 200 cases in the state.

"That amounts to four cases a week in New Jersey," Baskies said.

The doctor credits much of the decrease to colon cancer screening through colonoscopy. He calls the colonoscopy a, "phenomenal test," because "it not only diagnoses the disease, but we can prevent it."

According to Baskies, there is an estimated 90 percent colon cancer cure rate if it is found early enough, which is why testing should begin around age 50.

"The average person should begin colon cancer screening at approximately age 50," he said. "That does not mean that you cannot get colon cancer before the age of 50."

Baskies says for those with a fear of the colonoscopy procedure, there are alternative screening methods.

"There is the looking for stool or evidence of colon DNA in your stools. This is a colon DNA test that is available that does not require a colonoscopy. It probably not quite as good as a colonoscopy, but certainly if someone has a morbid fear of having a colonoscopy, this would be a great alternative," he said.

Who should be given different consideration or special consideration to begin screening earlier?

"People with a family history of polyps or a family history of colon cancer or other types of cancers in the pelvis should be considered to be screened at an earlier age. And that discussion should occur with your doctor and/or your gastroenterologist," the doctor said.

He added there are also subsets of individuals who are more at risk. People with ulcerative colitis, for instance, are at high risk for development of colorectal cancer.

"People with a history of what we call, 'familial polyposis,' which is a very small subset of the population, are at higher risk," he said.

As far as symptoms, Baskies said to look for "bleeding from the rectum. If you notice blood in your stools. If you notice a change in the caliber of your stools. If you notice the change in bowel habits or a change in the way that you go to the bathroom. Those are all symptoms of the disease. Vomiting, nausea...that is usually a sign of the more advanced colon cancer."

The American Cancer Society estimates that across the country this year, 134,000 people in the U.S. are expected to be diagnosed with colon cancer and more than 49,000 will die.

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