We have all heard the statement that regular screenings can help you avoid cancer. But is this really true or are the doctors just trying to drum up more business? The fact is, regular screening does reduce your risk of developing many kinds of cancer and the savings in cost to get the screening is much less than the cost if you were to get the cancer.
Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer for both men and women. Regular screens may prevent it or at least may pick it up at a very early stage. Â The simplest screen is a check of your stool for blood. I do these on almost everyone over age 50 who comes in for a well woman exam. If positive, the next screen is a colonoscopy.
There is no doubt that the incidence of colorectal cancer has declined thanks to colonoscopy which is the best method of early detection for colon cancer. Colonoscopy allows the doctor to look inside the colon, find a growth that might be premalignant and remove it immediately before it has a chance to grow and transform into a cancer of the colon.
Regular routine screening is important because 50% of people diagnosed with colon cancer have no symptoms. This is way all patients need the screen, even though they have no symptoms. The unfortunate part is, by the time symptoms such as gross blood in the stool, pain, frequent bloating, diarrhea or constipation are obvious, it may have already advanced and it may be too late to treat.
If you do see blood in your stool, you should have it evaluated immediately. Fortunately, most commonly, blood in the stool is caused by some other benign disorder, such as hemorrhoids or diverticulitis. However, one must always make sure that the problem is not a cancer of the colon.
Family history definitely plays a role in the development of colon cancer. It is considered a major risk factor. The average person has a 6% lifetime risk for colorectal cancer. If you have a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, who is diagnosed with the cancer, your risk doubles from 12% to 15%.
The American cancer Society recommends a colonoscopy every 10 years beginning at age 50. If you have a family history of colon cancer, you should have them starting at age 40.
Many people ask about the virtual colonoscopy. Here, a tiny camera in a capsule is swallowed and records its journey through your stomach, intestines and colon. It is very time consuming and may be painful. In addition, if an abnormality is visualized by the camera, you still would need a colonoscopy to biopsy and determine if the lesion was benign or malignant. Therefore, you might just as well do the colonoscopy.
A colonoscopy does not generally hurt since most physicians perform the procedure while the patient is asleep or much sedated. It is an out patient procedure and very tolerable. Most people say the procedure was fine, but the preparation for the procedure was their biggest complaint. In order to see everything clearly in your colon, you must have a colon cleansing with special preparations, such as Go Litely. Although this is indeed an annoyance, when the physician tells you that you are cancer free, it is worth the discomfort and inconvenience.
There are certain lifestyle modifications that also can help prevent colon cancers from developing. Increasing your ingestion of fiber seems to help significantly, as does reducing your weight, avoiding excess fats in the diet, and exercising. Another action that women can do if possible is to continue taking their hormones postmenopausal. A recent article found that women on hormone replacement therapy can reduce their risk of developing colon cancer by over 60%. I like to discuss hormone therapy with women because I believe it can improve their health, as are discussions about the prevention of all cancers.
Colon cancer screens are just a part of the Well Woman Exams I do in my office. I try to screen for multiple different cancers during the exam to help my patients maintain health. If I can help them prevent a cancer, or help them get one treated early, I feel I have helped them to live longer and with an improved quality of life. If you would like to know more about the cancer screenings that I offer, call our office and make an appointment so we can discuss your options.