March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and the 2019 theme according to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance is “Don’t Assume”.
“We make a lot of assumptions about our health as we grow older. We are usually wrong,” said ACMC Gastroenterologist David Novak, MD. “After we turn 50, we assume the changes our bodies experience are a natural part of aging. Some are - like graying hair, deeper wrinkles. But we are wrong to think there is anything natural about symptoms of colorectal cancer, regardless of age.”
Those symptoms include sudden weight loss, recurring fatigue, lower belly cramps, or rectal bleeding. These are often the first symptoms of potentially cancerous polyps in the colon. The good news is, by following the recommended guidelines for colonoscopy, colorectal cancer can be detected long before any of those unnatural symptoms appear.
“The longer a person waits to have colorectal cancer screenings, the greater the risk they have for developing cancerous cells that are difficult or impossible to treat,” said ACMC Gastroenterologist David Weinerman, MD. “A colonoscopy should be scheduled as soon as a person turns 50. Depending on the results of that screening, it may be 5 to 10 years before another colonoscopy is needed.
A colonoscopy is done using a thin flexible tube, called a colonoscope. A light, camera, and tool to collect cells or remove polyps are attached to the colonoscope. Before the procedure begins, patients are given medication to relax them and put them into a light sleep. Most patients don’t even remember having the procedure.
Although age 50 is still the widely-recommended threshold for beginning screening colonoscopies, it is important to remember that colorectal cancer can affect adults at any age.
“New statistics show about 10% of all colorectal cancer cases in the U.S. are detected in people under the age of 50,” Dr. Novak said. “If you have any of the symptoms, or have a family history – even if you’re in your 20s or 30s – it is vital that you have a colonoscopy before age 50.”
“Colorectal cancer is one of the easiest to treat, and is curable, when found early,” said Dr. Weinerman. “That’s why we put so much emphasis on screening.”
A wrong assumption about colonoscopy that ACMC gastroenterologists want to debunk is about the prep before the screening.
“The prep before a colonoscopy is a big reason so many people put off having the screening,” said Dr. Novak. “The process has come a long way. The laxative solution that cleanses the colon doesn’t taste as bad as it did years ago, and patients no longer have to drink the entire solution in one evening. You can follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how much to drink the night before, then drink the rest three to six hours before your procedure.”
ACMC also has a new process for obtaining the prep and education before the procedure.
“We know lives are busy. Requiring patients to come to the office for education and to receive the prep solution created an unnecessary obstacle for many patients,” said Dr. Weinerman. “Now your primary care provider can send over the referral, our nurse practitioner will go over all of the information and education over the phone; you pick up the prep at a pharmacy, and then come to ACMC the day of your colonoscopy. For patients who want an appointment with either me or Dr. Novak before their procedure, we will gladly accommodate them.”
To discuss your personal risk for colorectal cancer, start with your primary care provider and then request a referral to ACMC’s Center for Digestive Health. To schedule an appointment with a gastroenterologist, call 440-998-0322.