A third of adults age 50 and over are still not getting screened for colorectal cancer, which is still the most treatable and preventable cancer we have. Still, 55,000 Americans are dying from it each year.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosis in the U.S. The disease starts in the large intestine, a tube-like channel that travels up one side of the abdominal cavity, across, and down the other.
Genetics and the environment are both causal factors. Only 25% of colorectal cancer patients have a family history of the disease. The environmental components are smoking, eating a high-fat diet, or having a history of constipation, because then the toxins in your stool sit against the colon’s lining for longer. Other risk factors are having a personal history of other cancers or inflammatory bowel diseases.
Colorectal cancer usually starts as a benign tumor, or polyp, that mutates and progresses over time. This is where screening comes in: Rutherford’s Best Doctors has 8 gastroenterology and colorectal surgery specialists that can identify and remove polyps while they are still precancerous, or find cancerous tumors while they are still treatable. Most of the time, when patients get regular colonoscopies, specialists can catch any cancers when they are still very, very treatable — and colorectal cancer can be a horrible disease when left untreated.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Doctors rely on screening because most patients are asymptomatic until the cancer is extremely advanced. By the time there are symptoms, the cancer is farther along and harder to treat.
The most common symptoms are pain in the abdomen, color in the stool, extreme fatigue, losing weight without trying, and any unexplained change in bowel habits.
The gold standard of early detection and treatment is the colonoscopy. The doctor uses an endoscope — a flexible tube with a camera on the end — to visualize the colon and search for any polyps or tumors. The procedure usually takes 20 to 30 minutes, but can take longer depending on the patient’s anatomy.
During the colonoscopy, the doctor will remove any polyps and check them for precancerous cells. If the colonoscopy uncovers tumors that have progressed from benign polyps to cancerous, surgery is the main treatment. In some cases, chemo is recommended after surgery to help prevent recurrence, but many patients will not even need chemo.
QUESTIONS FOR YOUR DOCTOR
If you’ve been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, two leadoff questions are, “What stage is my cancer?” and “When can I start treatment?” Also recommended: “Can I talk to other patients who have had this surgery?” and “What can I do to prevent this from recurring?”
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Get screened. Start getting scoped at age 50, or earlier if you have any risk factors. Many patients have screening benefits, and Stones River Regional Independent Physicians’ Association has the highest quality specialty physicians who can schedule you during March.
Take preventive steps. You can cut your risk by exercising, getting enough fiber, and limiting fat intake and alcohol.
SRRIPA Gastroenterology Specialists
Roy L. Hood, MD, MMC
Robert Ingle, MD, MMC
Robert L. Knox, Jr., MD, MMC
Brendan B. O’Hare, MD, Mid-State Gastroenterology, PLLC
Sunil Sarvaria, MD, Mid-State Gastroenterology
John Whitfield, MD, Murfreesboro Surgical Specialists