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Colon Screening a Must to Prevent, Treat Colon Cancer, Says Lourdes Colorectal Surgeon

According to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS), 140,000 new cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed every year and another 56,000 people die annually of this disease – a staggering figure when you consider that, despite the grim statistics, the disease can be prevented and oftentimes cured if detected and treated early.

But prevention and early treatment are difficult to accomplish when people put off colon exams, says Dr. David Berg, colorectal surgeon at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center. He says that the benefits of colon screening drastically outweigh any discomfort or embarrassment.

“Delaying a colon screening lessens the chance of being able to cure colon cancer should a person develop it,” Berg explains. “Colonoscopy, which is a visual exam of the lining of the colon and rectum using a long, flexible tube, often takes less than a half-hour and is done on an outpatient basis with sedation and minimal discomfort. Most importantly, it is a highly effective screening tool.”

Colorectal cancer develops from benign polyps (mushroom-like growths on the lining of the colon and rectum). Removing these polyps before they become cancerous can prevent cancer from developing. Colonoscopies allow surgeons to perform biopsies and remove polyps early in the disease process, when colorectal cancer is most treatable.

The risk of developing colorectal cancer increases with age. All men and women age 50 and older are at risk for developing colorectal cancer, and should be screened starting at age 50.

Some people are at a higher risk for colorectal cancer and should be screened at an age younger than 50, including those with a personal or family history of inflammatory bowel disease; colorectal cancer or polyps; or ovarian, endometrial or breast cancer. These high-risk groups should begin screenings at age 40 or 10 years before the family member had the disease, whichever is sooner.  African Americans should begin screenings at age 45. (African Americans have the highest rate of colorectal cancer in the United States. Reasons are not yet understood).

Regardless of age, sex or race, Dr. Berg urges those with colorectal symptoms to see a physician. Concerning symptoms may include:

  • Changes in bowel movements, including persistent constipation, diarrhea, rectal cramping or bleeding
  • Dark patches of blood in or on stool, or long, narrow stools
  • Abdominal discomfort or bloating
  • Unexplained fatigue, appetite or weight loss
  • Pelvic pain

In addition to regular colon screenings, prevention techniques also include a healthy diet and regular exercise. “A low-fat, high-fiber diet, high in vegetable and fruit intake, along with regular exercise can also lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer,” said Dr. Berg.

It is estimated that approximately 40,000 lives a year could be saved through widespread adoption of colorectal cancer screening and early treatment in men and women. Between 80 and 90 percent of patients are restored to normal health if the cancer is detected and treated in the earliest stages. However, the cure rate drops to 50 percent or less when diagnosed in the later stages, according to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons.

“Unfortunately, many polyps and early cancers fail to produce symptoms,” said Dr. Berg. “This makes the disease dangerous and the reason why regular screening is vitally necessary.”

To schedule a screening appointment with a Lourdes colorectal specialist, please call 1-888-LOURDES or visit www.lourdesnet.org.

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