March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

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March 11, 2017

Colorectal cancer will strike one of 20 people in the US over their lifetime, including both men and women. Colon cancer is curable by surgery if it is diagnosed early. Therefore, screening is recommended at age 50 for most people, age 45 for African Americans, and earlier for some people at high risk such as those with a strong family history of colon cancer.

There are several choices for screening. Colonoscopy is considered the best method because it both looks for cancer at an early stage before it causes symptoms, and prevents cancer — if polyps are found, they can be removed during the procedure, thus preventing them from growing into cancer. Many people avoid colonoscopy, mostly because they have to drink strong laxatives the day before the procedure to clean out the colon for a good look. Also, since sedation is used to keep patients comfortable during the examination, they must miss a day of work and have someone take them home. When the results are available, the doctor determines when the next colonoscopy should be done. It is performed every 10 years in people who do not have polyps or cancer and are not considered to be high risk.

Some people prefer non-invasive testing that they can do at home. There are 2 different stool tests in use. The FIT test checks for blood in the stool and is done annually. The Cologuard test checks for blood and abnormal DNA in the stool and is done every 3 years. Cologuard or FIT testing are not appropriate for patients who have had polyps or cancer or who are at high risk for other reasons, such as family history. When one of the non-invasive tests is abnormal, it must be followed by a colonoscopy to look for polyps or cancer. While these tests are not as good at detecting polyps and cancer as colonoscopy, any screening is better than no screening.

Please, if you are at the age to undergo testing, talk to your primary care doctor or gynecologist about your options, or make an appointment with a gastroenterologist to discuss this in more detail.

Recently, there have been reports that colon cancer incidence is rising in people under the age of 50 before they are due for their screening examinations. Some symptoms of colon cancer include rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, or change in bowel habits, including constipation, narrowing of stools or chronic diarrhea. If you are experiencing those symptoms, whether you are over or under 50, please seek medical attention so you can be evaluated appropriately.

I have done many colonoscopies over the years and have diagnosed many cancers and removed many polyps. All of those patients who had early colon cancer are still alive and see me regularly for their check ups. That is why I am so passionate about screening.

This past year, I diagnosed colon cancer in a friend. She wasn’t planning to have a colonoscopy but had a little bleeding so came for the procedure and was found to have cancer which was cured by surgery. She noted that it was easier to make herself come for the procedure because she knew me. So to all of you out there reading our blog, please consider the Lady Docs gastroenterologists (Dr. Julia Korenman, Dr. Anne Marie Stephenson, Dr. T. Ann Tonnu) your friends and get screened if you have not already done so. 

Here’s an additional article by Dr. Julia Korenman with dietary info about colorectal cancer prevention: