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July 2010 | 0 Comments | Print

Colorectal Cancer: Screening and early detection key for treatment

With Janice Rafferty, MD, colorectal surgeon with The Christ Hospital

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States for both men and women combined. This year, approximately 140,000 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed, and 56,000 people will die from the disease.

"Colorectal cancer is a disease that is preventable by timely screening. It’s even possible that a healthy diet and regular exercise can decrease risk," explained Janice Rafferty, M.D., colorectal surgeon with The Christ Hospital.

Know your risk

To lower your risk of colorectal cancer, the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons recommends that you:

  • Get screened for colorectal cancer at age 50, or if you are African-American, at age 45. If colorectal cancer runs in your family, get screened even earlier.
  • Eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet.
  • If you use alcohol, drink only in moderation. If you use tobacco, quit. If you don't use tobacco, don't start. Alcohol and tobacco in combination are linked to colorectal cancer and other gastrointestinal cancers.
  • Exercise for at least 20 minutes three to four days each week. Moderate exercise such as walking, gardening or climbing steps may help.

Since there are very few symptoms associated with colorectal cancer, regular screening is essential. Screening is beneficial for two main reasons: colorectal cancer is preventable if polyps that lead to the cancer are detected and removed; and it is highly curable if the cancer is detected in its early stages.

"If detected, colorectal cancer requires surgery in nearly all cases for complete cure, sometimes in conjunction with radiation and chemotherapy," said Dr. Rafferty. "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 significantly when diagnosed in the later stages."

In addition, studies have shown that patients with rectal cancer treated by colorectal surgeons – experts in the surgical and non-surgical treatment of colon and rectal problems – are more likely to survive their disease with fewer complications. This is attributed to colorectal surgeons' advanced training and the high volume of complex pelvic surgeries they perform.

The risk of developing colorectal cancer increases with age. All men and women are at risk for developing colorectal cancer, and that risk begins to increase markedly after age 50. Some people are at a higher risk because of a family history of colorectal polyps or cancer, or chronic inflammatory bowel disease and should be screened at an age younger than 50.

Get screened

Current methods used to screen for colorectal cancer in patients without symptoms include:

  • Fecal occult blood tests – A chemical test to detect hidden blood in the stool
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy – A visual exam ofthe rectum and lower portion of the colon
  • Double contrast barium enema – An X-ray using barium
  • Colonoscopy – A visual examination of the entire colon)
  • Virtual colonoscopy – A special CAT scan)
  • Digital rectal exam

Colorectal cancer screening costs are covered by Medicare and many commercial health plans. You should find out from your colorectal surgeon or other healthcare provider which screening procedure is right for you and how often you should be examined.

To learn more about colorectal cancer and screening options, please visit Call 877-904-4YOU to find a Christ Hospital primary care physician or gastroenterology specialist.

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