Adam Beckerman, M.D.
Colon cancer and rectal cancer (cancer of the last few inches of the colon) is together known as Colorectal Cancer or CRC. In the United States, one hundred forty thousand new cases are diagnosed each year with fifty one thousand deaths occurring annually. Fortunately, recent research has yielded techniques that make colorectal cancer one of the most preventable cancers. Because of this, early detection of CRC has significantly increased its cure rate over the last 30 years.Signs and symptoms of CRC include:
- A change in bowel habits lasting more than two weeks (either diarrhea, constipation, or a change in caliber of the stool).
- Rectal bleeding and blood in the stool. Although blood can often be due to hemorrhoids it should never be ignored.
- Persistent pain, cramps gas or bloating.
- Weakness, fatigue or unexplained weight loss.
- Iron deficiency anemia from chronic blood loss.
Unfortunately, many colon and rectal cancers are “silent” and often start as a polyp. One should note that there is no difference in the risk of development of CRC between genders. It is for this reason, routine screening for colon cancer is recommended for both men and women.
The following are some important recommendations for colorectal cancer screening:
- All Americans over the age of fifty.
- African Americans should be screened at age forty-five because they are diagnosed at a younger age than other ethnic groups.
- Anyone with a previous history of CRC and polyps.
- Anyone with a first-degree relative or at least two second-degree relatives with a history of CRC or polyps.
- Those with any Inherited form of colon cancer or polyps.
- Individuals with predisposing conditions such as Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis.
- Anyone with a history of other cancers such as breast cancer.
- Those with a strong family history of multiple cancers, even if it is not Colon cancer, should be screened at an earlier age.
The determination of how often one should be screened depends on many factors. In the general population, we recommend screening every five to ten years. However depending on your history, your family history, whether or not you have had polyps and what type of polyps you have had, you may need a colonoscopy more frequently. Colonoscopy is one of our best tools to prevent colon cancer. During the colonoscopy, the patient is sedated and comfortable while the physician carefully examines the colon and rectum. If a polyp is found, it is removed or biopsied and sent for examination by a pathologist (a physician who specializes in the reading of tissue removed from the body). These small growths come in many shapes and sizes ranging from the tree shaped “pedunculated polyp” to the extremely flat (sessile) polyp. Recent advances in imaging techniques such as high definition resolution colonoscopies, has increased the capabilities of detecting and removing these polyps. The development of at least 75 percent of colorectal cancer can be avoided through early detection and removal of pre-cancerous polyps
In the past, people would not discuss their colon and colonoscopy because of embarrassment. Colon cancer is not a disease that should be ignored. It is our hope that during March, which happens to be colon cancer awareness month, you would take the time to discuss colon and rectal cancer screening with your doctor. Together, we can prevent colon and rectal cancer by aggressive screening for this deadly disease.