A form of cancer that’s preventable
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. One important word that comes to mind about colorectal cancer is “preventable.” Each year, more than 100,000 people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer and more than 50,000 people die from it annually.
Your doctor plays an invaluable role in helping to prevent colorectal cancer. Primary care providers will remind you about your initial screening, typically at age 50, by recommending that you visit your gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy or by submitting stool cards for testing. Colorectal cancer can be prevented nine out of 10 times through early detection with proper screening. Only about 50 percent of those who should be getting colonoscopies are doing so.
Here are some important statistics about colorectal cancer:
• Colorectal cancer is the third most common cause of cancer death in the U.S.
• Symptoms include blood in your stools or with wiping, narrower than normal stools, abdominal pain, change in bowel habits, anemia or abnormal weight loss.
• Polyps, the precursors to colorectal cancer, are both inherited and caused by lifestyle choices. Risk of developing polyps and cancer can be increased by diets high in fat and low in fiber, cigarette smoking, a sedentary lifestyle and obesity. Daily fiber intake should be at least 25 grams.
Colorectal cancer screening should begin at age 50. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, talk with your doctor, because you may need to be screened earlier than age 50. Colorectal cancer screening can be implemented in two ways: By finding and removing precancerous polyps and by detecting cancer early when it is most treatable. Available screening tests include colonoscopy, stool tests and virtual colonoscopy.
A colonoscopy is the only test that allows both the detection and removal of precancerous polyps and the detection of colorectal cancer. It can be both diagnostic and therapeutic. Colonoscopy uses a flexible tube with a light and video camera on the end to see inside the colon. A cleansing bowel prep is required prior to the procedure and allows the gastroenterologist to effectively examine the colon. If a polyp is found, the gastroenterologist can remove it immediately. If anything else looks abnormal, a biopsy can be done. A colonoscopy is generally done with sedation so that you are relaxed and comfortable throughout the entire procedure.
Fecal immunochemical testing (FIT) and the Cologuard test are two available screening tools that can be done at home and are non-invasive tests. Because they are not as accurate, they should be done more frequently. FIT should be performed annually. Cologuard testing should be performed every three years. If either of these tests is positive, your doctor will refer you to a gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy.
A virtual colonoscopy utilizes a special CT scan to image the colon. This test is often done for people with significant medical problems that prevent them from having a conventional colonoscopy. It is also done when a person has failed a conventional colonoscopy. The same bowel prep is used, but there is no sedation. If polyps are found, your doctor will refer you to a gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy.
Gastroenterologists most commonly perform colonoscopies. A gastroenterologist is a specialist in the digestive system, plus the liver, pancreas and gallbladder. Board certified gastroenterologists complete a three-year residency in internal medicine followed by a three-year fellowship program to complete their training.
Dr. Jason M. Collins, who has been practicing in the Roaring Fork Valley since 2010, received his undergraduate degree from University of Michigan in cellular and molecular biology. He completed his residency at University of Illinois and his gastroenterology fellowship training at Howard University. He opened Roaring Fork Gastroenterology in 2015.
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