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Why You Should Stop Avoiding Your Colonoscopy

March 15, 2019
It’s probably not on the top of your want-to-do list, but if you’re 45 or older, it should be on the top of your to-do list. Dr. Joseph DiRocco, medical director of gastrointestinal oncology at GBMC, and Dr. Nina Ferraris, colon and rectal surgeon, talked with Mary Beth Marsden about the importance of getting recommended screenings for colon cancer, what factors can increase or decrease your risk of colon and rectal cancer, and how the team at GBMC’s new William A. and Jarnetta Kroh Center for Digestive Disorders is bringing the best care for colon and rectal cancer and other gastrointestinal conditions to patients.

“Colon and rectal cancers are among the top causes of cancer deaths in the U.S.,” explained Dr. DiRocco. “But getting recommended screening colonoscopies can not only detect cancer earlier, there’s also a preventive aspect, because we remove any pre-cancerous polyps we find before they have the chance to become cancerous.”

Added Dr. Ferraris, “What most people are anxious about is the prep for colonoscopy and there are many new options, including ones that require you to drink a lower volume of the solution and ones that let you combine the powdered solution with beverages you actually like to drink. We also use a newer gas to inflate the colon that doesn’t cause as much post-procedure discomfort.”

She also noted that the recommended age for starting screening has changed. The American Cancer Society now recommends that screening start at 45 for people at average risk. If you have a family history of colon cancer or have been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, your doctor may tell you to start screening sooner.

Asked about alternatives to colonoscopy, Dr. DiRocco explained that while there are at-home stool tests that check for blood or genes in the sample, these approaches do have downsides. “These tests pale in comparison to colonoscopy. Tests that look for blood in the stool miss ¼ of cancers and, although the gene tests are more accurate overall, they are not good for finding advanced polyps and also have a 14% false positive rate, which can cause undo worry,” he said.

Beyond recommended screenings, Dr. DiRocco and Dr. Ferraris say there are steps you can take to lower your risk of colon and rectal cancer. These include eating a healthy diet high in fiber, avoiding processed meats, and not smoking or drinking too much alcohol. “Exercise is another great thing you can do not only for your overall health, but also to lower your risk of these cancers,” Dr. DiRocco added. “Not only does regular exercise lower the risk of colon and rectal cancer, it also improves survival for patients who have been diagnosed with these cancers and lowers the risk of recurrence.”
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