Don't let me see you for colon cancer
I’m a surgeon, and I write this article to help educate you so I don’t ever have to see you for surgery.
March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month.
It’s Colon Cancer Awareness Month because in 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 135,260 Americans were diagnosed with colon cancer — and 51,783 people died from the disease.
While the number of colon cancer deaths has been steadily declining by about 3 percent per year since 1998, colon cancer is still the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the US.
Here’s what you need to know.
Like other cancers, a person’s risk of developing colon cancer increases if other family members have had the disease.
Those said, most colon cancer cases (80 percent) occur in patients with no such history.
Smoking, obesity, processed foods, red meat intake and a lack of exercise are other known factors that increase your risk, while a diet rich in fruits and vegetables has been shown to actually decrease your risk.
The good news is these lifestyle risk factors are in your control.
So allow me to get all MD on you: Get off the couch, stop smoking and eat well. It really is that simple.
Only one true cure for colon cancer exists — prevention.
In addition to limiting your risk factors, the next best way to prevent colon cancer is to monitor the body.
It’s recommended that everyone sign up for their first colonoscopy screening at age 50. This is because 90 percent of new colon cancer cases occur in people over age 50.
The disease can occur earlier in those at high risk and those who experience bleeding or inflammatory bowel disease, so talk to your primary care provider to see if you must have the test sooner.
A colonoscopy is a safe, benign procedure done in an outpatient setting. It requires some patient preparation first — a day and night of drinking medicine to fully empty the bowels so they can be viewed clearly.
When you’re ready for the procedure, it involves placing a long, flexible tube into the anus to examine the entire colon and rectum with a viewing scope. This usually takes a few minutes and is done under sedation.
The goal is to detect any precancerous conditions, most commonly polyps — small growths on the surface of the colon that can be removed during the colonoscopy.
If you are a wise one who listens to your doctor, the apparent indignation of a colonoscopy could save your life. Indeed, studies show the procedure may reduce mortality rates by 60 to 70 percent.
Another inexpensive and highly effective test is a Fecal Occult Blood Test, which can be performed in your doctor’s office.
If you are diagnosed with colon cancer, modern medicine can still help.
Treatment is multi-faceted and may involve specialists from several branches of medicine, including surgeons, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists and even geneticists.
Minimally invasive surgery and new chemotherapy drugs are positively impacting the way we treat colon cancer and survival rates.
Even more exciting developments in robotic surgery and immunotherapy are coming online and stand poised to revolutionize treatment.
But that doesn’t negate the premise. Despite increasing awareness, colon cancer screening rates run between 54 and 75 percent across the US.
We can do better.
Find yourself a doctor you like, listen to his or her advice, and take responsibility for preventing colon cancer.
More than likely you’ll be colon-cancer free, but you’ll be doing yourself and your family a great service by making sure.
Learn more about colon cancer and related care and treatment at MultiCare.
Get information about available gastrointestinal clinical trials.
About The Author
Prakash Gatta, MD, works at MultiCare Cedar Surgical Associates in Tacoma. He is a general surgeon specializing in minimally invasive surgery of the gastrointestinal tract. More stories by this author