March 27, 2006

Drinkers, smokers need colon tests earlier: study

CHICAGO (Reuters) - People who smoke and drink should start
screening for colon cancer earlier because they tend to
contract the disease at a younger age than those who abstain
from cigarettes and alcohol, a study said on Monday.

Screening for colon cancer is generally recommended for
anyone 50 or older, and 90 percent of cases occur after that

Men have a 1-in-17 chance of contracting the disease in
their lifetimes, according to the American Cancer Society. Use
of alcohol and cigarettes are known to heighten the risks of
all types of cancer, including colon cancer.

An analysis of 161,000 colon cancer victims found those who
had smoked and drunk alcohol in the previous year contracted
the disease an average of eight years earlier than people who
never smoked and never drank.

The average age of initial diagnosis was 62 for male
smokers and drinkers, 63 for women.

In the study, those who smoked but did not drink, or the
reverse, developed the disease an average of five years earlier
than abstainers, with female smokers particularly at risk of
getting the disease earlier.

A family history is another important risk factor for colon
cancer, which often produces symptoms such as bleeding only
after it has progressed, said the study published in the
Archives of Internal Medicine.

"In the future, we envision the development of risk scores
with exogenous (e.g., alcohol and tobacco use, age, body mass
index, diet and calcium consumption) and hereditary factors to
tailor an individual's colorectal cancer screening program,"
wrote study author, Dr. Anna Zisman of Northwestern University
in Evanston, Illinois.

Screening involves either a sigmoidoscopy that checks for
tumors in the lower portion of the large intestine, or a more
extensive colonoscopy in which a longer flexible optical
instrument is threaded through the entire colon.

Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths
after lung cancer, killing nearly 500,000 people annually.