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March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Hospital news | Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Contact: John Broom

Colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. But, it is also one of the easiest to detect, making it one of the most treatable forms of cancer. In fact, early detection can even prevent colorectal cancer.

Colon cancer starts as tiny polyps form in the large intestine (colon). Over time, the polyps can become cancerous. To determine if you have polyps, a gastroenterologist performs a colonoscopy.

Colonoscopy is the gold standard screening for colorectal cancer. It is generally recommended that men and women get their first colonoscopy when they turn 50, although a few national organizations have recently lowered the recommended age to 45. For individuals with certain risk factors, such as a family history of colon cancer, it is recommended that screening begin at a younger age.

ACMC Center for Digestive Health Gastroenterologist David Novak, MD, said, “Studies have shown men have an average chance of around 30- 40% of having adenomatous polyps on their first screening, while women have a chance of 20-30% on their first screening colonoscopy. It doesn’t mean the polyp is cancerous, but we know polyps can become cancerous over time.”

Dr. Novak said that if no polyps are found, and the patient isn’t at high-risk for colon cancer, the normal time between colonoscopies is 10 years.

A colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure during which the gastroenterologist inserts a colonoscope, a thin flexible tube with a camera and light on the end. The colonoscope gives the physician a view of the entire colon. If polyps are found, they can be removed during the colonoscopy.

ACMC Center for Digestive Health Gastroenterologist David Weinerman, MD, said there are colon cancer risk factors fall into two categories: those we can control, and those we cannot.

“A healthy lifestyle definitely plays a role in a person’s risk for colon cancer. We can control that risk by losing weight, exercising, eating less red and processed meats, limiting alcohol, and stopping smoking,” said Dr. Weinerman.

Risk factors for colon cancer that cannot be controlled are a history of inflammatory bowel disease, a family history of colon cancer or colon polyps, having type 2 diabetes, or racial and ethnic background.

Symptoms of colorectal cancer may include rectal bleeding, severe constipation, diarrhea, changes in stool shape, or unexplained weight loss. Cancerous polyps are also prone to bleeding which can lower your blood count, leading to shortness of breath and lightheadedness.

Treatments for colorectal cancer include medications, surgery, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy.

“Colonoscopies save lives. Early stage colon cancer is often curable. It is estimated that up to 85% of colorectal cancer could be prevented if everyone who should get screened actually does,” Dr. Novak said.

If you are 50 years old or older, or if you have other risk factors, speak with your primary care provider about a colonoscopy, or call ACMC’s Center for Digestive Health at 440-998-0322 to schedule an appointment.