Time to get checked for colon cancer if you are 50 or older

Published 3:02 pm Tuesday, March 8, 2011

During the month of March, health providers across the country bring attention and awareness to colorectal cancer. Why? Because every year, about 135,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer and about 57,000 die from the disease. But most people are uncomfortable talking about colon cancer or the screening to detect it.

When colorectal cancer is detected early, the chances of successful treatment are the greatest. Screening also finds many polyps before cancer develops. By removing these growths, cancer can actually be prevented. Colorectal cancer can be prevented or detected early and with little discomfort by using one or more of the following procedures available at St. Luke’s Hospital with your doctor’s order:

• The fecal occult blood test is a simple at-home procedure that checks stool samples for hidden blood, which can be a sign of cancer, polyps or other internal disorders.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

• Colonoscopy is a procedure using a flexible, hollow, lighted tube that detects cancer or polyps inside the rectum and lower colon. The colonscope is long enough to view the entire colon.

• The double-contrast barium enema is an x-ray examination that allows a radiologist to view the entire colon.

If a polyp or abnormality is discovered, a small tissue sample is removed through the colonscope for further examination. If cancer is found, surgery, sometimes combined with radiation and/or chemotherapy, is the most effective method of treatment.

Most colorectal cancers begin as a polyp that later becomes cancerous. If polyps are found early, they can be removed before cancer develops. In this sense, colorectal cancer is a disease that can be prevented. Eating a diet that is low in fat and rich in fruits and vegetables may also lower the risk of colorectal cancer.

“Most of these cases occur after the age of 50, which is why men and women at average risk should begin regular screening at age 50,” urges general surgeon Jim Holleman, MD. “However, anyone with a personal or family history of colorectal cancer, polyps in the colon or rectum, or inflammatory bowel disease is at higher risk for the disease and may need to begin screening sooner and more often. If you are age 50 or older, or if you are at a higher risk because of your personal or family history, talk to your doctor about colorectal screening. If you experience symptoms such as change in bowel habits, rectal bleeding or stomach cramps that will not go away, see your doctor immediately.”

Dr. Holleman said that colonoscopy is highly effective and a true preventive test in cancer treatment.

“If you are 50 years of age or older, you need to schedule a colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer,” Dr. Holleman said.