Colorectal Cancer: Don’t Sit On It, Get Screened
by Mark Robbin, MD board certified gastroenterologist at Attleboro Gastroenterology Associates
March is recognized as Colon Cancer Awareness Month, which makes it a good time to address everyone’s not-so-favorite topic: colonoscopy. Though widely unpopular, the colonoscopy and its capacity for detecting colorectal cancer (cancer of the large intestine) and saving lives, certainly outrivals the slight unpleasantness of prepping for the test. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the lifetime risk of getting colorectal cancer is one in 20. It is also the third most common cancer excluding skin cancers. Early detection is the best protection against the disease that accounts for about 50,000 deaths annually. ACS screening guidelines follow that men and women over 50 should get a colonoscopy every 10 years.
Colonoscopy, the gold standard test for colorectal cancer, is a procedure that area residents do not have to leave our community to get. Think about it: during the slightly unpleasant colon-cleansing prep, who would want to travel far from home (i.e. a bathroom) for a routine procedure? Right here in Attleboro, Sturdy Memorial Hospital has a state-of-the-art Endoscopy Suite. The suite’s comfortable and modern procedure rooms are equipped with the latest technologies, including high-definition video capability that offers sharp, high-contrast images. This enables our team of board certified gastroenterologists to provide thorough screening of the inner walls of the entire colon and rectum, and removal of any polyps or suspicious tissue samples that we biopsy for cancer.
Nearly 3,000 colonoscopies are performed each year in Sturdy’s Endoscopy Suite. However, that number should be higher – approximately 25 percent of people in Massachusetts do not get colonoscopies as frequently or early as they should, if at all. That is why Sturdy is committed to educating and encouraging our patients and community members over 50 to get a colonoscopy every 10 years - or earlier - if there is a family history of cancer. By testing every 10 years, colorectal cancer can be detected and diagnosed in its early and most treatable stages. And finding polyps and removing them via colonoscopy can prevent cancer in the first place. During the early stages, most forms of colorectal cancer are slow growing and symptoms are not usually present. By the time symptoms - such as changes in stool, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, or unexplained weight loss – do develop, the disease is often in a more advanced and life-threatening stage.
What can make most people reluctant about scheduling their colonoscopy is the cleansing part. Preparations involve forgoing solid foods and taking laxatives before the test – cleansing the colon and rectum. In order to get a clearer view of the lining of the colon, a split-dose bowel preparation is prescribed. This means that half of the laxative dose is taken the night before and the remaining just hours before the procedure. This process better ensures removal of the liquids that gather from the small bowel into the colon, additional ease for the patient, and a successful colonoscopy. Our goal is to provide maximum comfort, with the highest level of care, throughout the entire process from before (cleansing) to during (the 30 minute procedure) and after (recovery – most people feel normal once the effects of the sedative wear off).
In conjunction with regular colonoscopies, lifestyle changes can aid in the prevention of colorectal cancer. Such changes include eating a healthy, low fat, high-fiber diet; consuming calcium rich foods and those with folate, such as leafy green vegetables; limiting red meat consumption and avoiding processed meats; drinking alcohol in moderation, if at all; exercising regularly; and if you use tobacco, quit.
Screening saves lives – whether you’re approaching 50, over 50, or due for your 10 year exam – don’t postpone your colonoscopy due to fears of slight discomfort, it’s vital to prevention. And, talk to your doctor about other factors that may put you at greater risk, such as a personal history of previous polyps or colon cancer, a family history of colon cancer or polyps, or if you have inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease). For more information or to make an appointment, please call Attleboro Gastroenterology Associates at 508-222-2021.