Colonoscopy still best defense against colon cancer

Published 10:19 pm Monday, March 17, 2014

March is recognized as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colorectal cancer is the third most frequently diagnosed cancer in men and women and is the second highest cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.

The good news is that when found early, it is highly curable.

The bad news is that there are usually no early warning signs for colorectal cancer.

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For this reason it’s important to get screened. Detecting cancer early means it’s more curable.

As the disease progresses, patients may notice blood in the stool, abdominal pain, a change in bowel habits (such as constipation or diarrhea), unexplained weight loss or fatigue.

By the time these symptoms appear, tumors tend to be larger and more difficult to treat.

Dr. James Holleman of St. Luke’s Surgical Associates and general surgeon for St. Luke’s Hospital explains that colorectal cancers often begin as polyps – benign growths on the surface of the colon.

The two most common types of intestinal polyps are adenomas and hyperplastic polyps.

They develop when there are errors in the way cells grow and repair the lining of the colon. Most polyps remain benign, but some have the potential to turn cancerous.

Removing them early prevents colorectal cancer.

“A colonoscopy becomes a necessary evil for most people starting at age 50,” adds Dr. Holleman. “The American Cancer Society recommends the procedure every 10 years for anyone 50 or older and advises having it more often and at younger ages for those at higher risk for colon cancer.”

Your risk of colorectal cancer depends on genetics and lifestyle. Factors you can’t control include: age – most patients are older than 50, having polyps or inflammatory bowel disease, having a family history of colorectal cancer and having a history of ovarian or breast cancer.

There are some factors that raise the risk of colorectal cancer that are within your control: decrease the red meat in your diet, maintain a healthy weight, exercise, don’t smoke and limit your alcohol intake.

“The bottom line,” Dr. Holleman says, “is that colonoscopy is highly effective and a true preventive test in cancer treatment. You can avoid this cancer if you find a polyp and remove it before it becomes a cancer or find a very early cancer and remove it.”

Dr. Holleman performs hundreds of colonoscopies each year at St. Luke’s Hospital.

“It’s not a very exciting or ‘cutting edge’ procedure, but a recent study confirms it is life-saving procedure,” Holleman said.  “As a team, we at St. Luke’s work hard to make sure the patient experience is the best possible, from the moment you come into the hospital to the post surgical phone call through the last office appointment.”

It’s true, Dr. Holleman stressed, “The staff at St. Luke’s Hospital is committed to providing exceptional care, close to home.”

To schedule a colonoscopy or if other questions, call St. Luke’s Surgical Associates at 828-894-3300.

– article submitted 

by Jennifer Wilson