To Your Health: Keep colon cancer risk under control
By Dr. Scott A. Brill March 6, 2013 8:20AM
Dr. Scott A. Brill
Updated: April 7, 2013 6:13AM
The second-leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women in the United States is colorectal cancer.
This year, an estimated 140,000 cases will be diagnosed and 50,000 people will die from the disease.
Contrary to commonly held belief, almost half these people will be women.
The most important thing people need to realize is that colorectal cancer is a disease that can be prevented through regular screening. Many people avoid screening out of fear, embarrassment or unwillingness. Instead, people should feel empowered by the fact that they can prevent the disease.
As the risk of developing colorectal cancer increases with age, it is recommended that people begin screening at age 50. Factors that put people at high risk include having a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps; ovarian, endometrial or breast cancer; or inflammatory bowel disease.
Screening should begin earlier for those at higher risk.
Several acceptable screening methods are used to detect colorectal cancer, including a fecal occult blood test to detect hidden blood in the stool. Also, a visual examination of the rectum and lower portion of the colon can be done in the doctor’s office using a flexible sigmoidoscope.
However, colonoscopy is the method preferred by most experts because it visualizes the entire colon and allows for detected polyps to be removed during the procedure.
A polyp is a growth of abnormal cells that begins in the lining of the colon. Almost all colorectal cancers begin as benign polyps, so it is extremely important to remove them. By removing polyps during a colonoscopy, and detecting colorectal cancer in its earliest stages, doctors have reduced the incidence of colorectal cancer, and improved survival.
Although the preparation can be unpleasant for some people, the procedure itself is quite easy. Prior to beginning, patients are given intravenous medication that sedates and minimizes discomfort. The procedure itself takes about 20 minutes and most people remember little or nothing of it.
When colon cancer is detected, surgery is almost always required, sometimes in conjunction with radiation and chemotherapy. Minimally invasive laparoscopy has had a tremendous impact on the field of colorectal surgery. Benefits include less pain, smaller incisions and a generally faster recovery over those who have traditional operations.
When colorectal cancer is detected and treated early, between 80 and 90 percent of patients recover fully. When diagnosed in the later stages however, the cure rate drops to 50 percent or less.
So please don’t wait until you are experiencing symptoms to schedule a screening colonoscopy. It just might save your life.
Dr. Brill is a Specialty Physicians of Illinois board-certified colon and rectal surgeon and the medical director of the Franciscan St. James Center for Colon and Rectal Surgery in Olympia Fields. Franciscan St. James is a member of the Southland Health Alliance.