Well, I just made it! The publication date for this specific issue of Coastal Breeze News is March 30 so it is still technically National Colon Cancer Awareness Month.
Here’s some background: President Clinton officially named March as National Colon Cancer Awareness Month in February 2000. Since that time, this designation has led to an annual parade of patients, survivors, caregivers and advocates beating their various drums for colon cancer awareness.
Did I wait to publish this column until the last week of March on purpose? Yes, I did. As proud as I am of the healthcare industry for choosing specific months to shine an educational light on important topics, there’s a part of me that worries about the other 11 months of the year. Breast cancer isn’t just an “October” issue and colon cancer should be top-of-mind long after March is over.
If you think you already know everything you need to know about colorectal health, good for you. However, in the spirit of education and awareness, please keep reading—especially if you know of a friend or loved one who may need a healthy push in the right gastroenterological direction.
Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer in the U.S. The Journal of the National Cancer Institute recently reported that colorectal cancer incidence in the United States is declining rapidly overall (that’s the good news) but, curiously, it is increasing among young adults.
The upshot? Regardless of your age, no one should ever work under the assumption that: “It can’t happen to me.” It can—or to someone you love.
What’s most frustrating to those of us in the medical profession is knowing that we lose so many loved ones each year to a disease that—so often—can be prevented.
As the Market CEO of Physicians Regional Healthcare System, I am proud of our investment in colorectal-health talent and technology. We are home to several highly skilled, board certified gastroenterologists and colorectal surgeons.
Our Physicians Regional Medical Group gastroenterologists (Dr. Michael Cohen, Dr. Alexandra Grace, and Dr. Maria Valdes) are trained in general internal medicine; however, they also received additional training in gastroenterology and disorders of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
Then there’s Dr. Susan Cera and Dr. Anthony Vernava, our colorectal surgeons. Both trained specifically in the surgical treatment (including robotic-assisted and minimally invasive) of diseases of the colon, rectum and anus.
And the common denominator between these two groups of dedicated medical professionals? They thoughtfully and sensitively address all your colorectal health needs. And they can all perform colonoscopies.
Okay, so let’s talk about it: the “dreaded” colonoscopy—a.k.a. the procedure most likely to find cancer in its early stages and save your life.
“Most people seem to know that, for example, mammograms detect breast cancer, but I don’t think people always realize the specific purpose of a colonoscopy,” says Physicians Regional’s Dr. Alexandra Grace. “In fact, everyone is supposed to get one at age 50 so shouldn’t everyone take the time to understand why?”
Dr. Grace continues: “During a colonoscopy, we’re primarily looking for polyps before they turn into cancer. A colonoscopy is actually a pretty routine procedure—and it’s only recommended every 5 to 10 years.”
However, there are exceptions. “Patients who have a family history of colon cancer or colon polyps should get screened ten years prior to their first-degree relative’s diagnosis. This is usually around 40.”
There’s also a chance that some people have heard more horror stories about colonoscopy prep than an actual colonoscopy. Here’s Dr. Grace’s spin: “You have only ONE night every 5 – 10 years you are going to be in the bathroom a lot. That’s it. A case of stomach flu is much worse. And it’s not like it hurts—the prep or the procedure. Plus, colon cancer is one of the most preventable cancers.”
Did you know…
Colorectal cancer risk increases with age. More than 90% of colorectal cancers occur in people aged 50 and older.
Precancerous polyps and colorectal cancer don’t always cause symptoms, especially at first. You could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it. That is why having a screening test is so important. If you have symptoms, they may include—
- Blood in or on the stool (bowel movement).
- Stomach pain, aches, or cramps that do not go away.
- Losing weight and you don’t know why.
These symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer. If you have any of them, see your doctor.
Some people are at a higher risk than others for developing colorectal cancer. If you think you may be at high risk, talk to your doctor about when and how often to get tested.
There are several screening test options. Talk with your doctor about which is right for you.
- Colonoscopy (every 10 years).
- High-sensitivity guaiac fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT) (every year).
- Sigmoidoscopy (every 10 years, with FOBT or FIT every three years).
- Sigmoidoscopy alone (every 5 years).
- Stool DNA test (FIT-DNA) every one or three years.
- CT colonography (or virtual colonoscopy) every five years.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – CDC.gov
For more information or to schedule an appointment with a gastroenterologist or colorectal surgeon, please call Physicians Regional Healthcare System at 239-348-4221.