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Get Serious about Colorectal Cancer Screening

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Laura Zabriskie

March 22, 2018
We may not like to talk about it, but colon cancer remains a very common cancer, and it is a dangerous topic to ignore. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer among men and women in the United States, and while it mostly affects people 50 years and older, the number of young patients has been rising in recent years.

Screening for colon cancer is all about prevention. Unlike many other cancers, colorectal cancer can be stopped before it starts. Most of the time, the disease starts as pre-cancerous polyps, which your doctor may be able to remove during a colonoscopy, the gold standard testing procedure to screen for colorectal cancer. Finding and removing these polyps can save your life.

Unfortunately, there are few early warning signs for this disease, so it is important to be screened regularly, especially if you have one or more factors putting you at a higher risk for colorectal cancer. These factors include:
  • Being over the age of 50
  • Having an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Having a family history of colorectal cancer or other cancers
  • Being of African American or Jewish Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi)
  • Having certain genetic conditions, such as Familial Polyposis Syndrome, and Lynch Syndrome (HNPCC- Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colorectal Cancer)
The preparation to cleanse the colon and rectum for a colonoscopy has a reputation for being unpleasant, but there are new options available to make it easier for patients to tolerate. Rather than having to drink an entire gallon of solution, patients can choose half-gallon options — flavors have also been improved and made more palatable. Many doctors are now prescribing a “split dose,” which allows patients to drink half of the prep solution the night before and the other half on the morning of the procedure. Colonoscopies are not painful and 95 percent of people sleep through them with no memory afterwards.

While most polyp growths and colon cancers do not present early with symptoms, and symptoms may be due to a variety of conditions other than cancer, if you are experiencing symptoms, it is possible that any cancer present is at a more advanced stage. Check with your primary care provider if you have any of the following symptoms:
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Abdominal pain
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Unusual bloating
Joseph DiRocco, MD, Medical Director of Gastroenterology (GI) Oncology at GBMC, recently discussed symptoms and treatments for GI cancer during a Facebook Live with Ashley James from WMAR-TV. They were also joined by one of his patients, who described his experience with colorectal cancer. Click here to watch the segment!
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