Colorectal cancer: Testing can save your life
It's ironic that one of the most common types of cancer in the United States is also one of the most preventable. And all it takes to set prevention or early treatment in motion is a test. March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month, a good time to learn more about colon and rectal cancer and how it can be prevented or best treated.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. It affects both men and women. Every year, more than 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with this form of cancer in the digestive system. Yet when it's found and treated early, it often can be cured. In some cases, screening can actually prevent the development of colorectal cancer by finding polyps (abnormal growths) so that they can be removed before they become cancerous. Each year, more than 9,000 New Yorkers develop colorectal cancer and, as a result, more than 3,000 die, according to the New York State Department of Health.
"Between 2011 through 2016, a total of 20 percent of UHS positive colon cancer patients were diagnosed in the earliest stage, Stage 0 (in situ) compared to 5 percent of other hospitals participating in the National Cancer Database," said Alec Grabowski, director of Digestive Health at UHS. “The earlier we can detect cancer, the earlier our providers, care teams and nurse navigators can develop a patient-centered care plan specific to the patient’s need." National Cancer Database is a clinical oncology database sourced from hospital registry data that are collected in more than 1,500 Commission on Cancer (CoC)-accredited facilities. NCDB data are used to analyze and track patients with malignant neoplastic diseases, their treatments, and outcomes. Data represent more than 70 percent of newly diagnosed cancer cases nationwide and more than 34 million historical records.
How can I lower my risk?
In 2018 the American Cancer Society updated its guidelines for colorectal screening, lowering the age at which adults at average risk should start screening from 50 to 45. Schedule your first colonoscopy at age 45, and every 10 years thereafter.
If you have a family history of colorectal cancer – especially in a first-degree relative, such as a parent, sibling or child – your physician may recommend earlier or more frequent screening. Talk with your primary care provider about choosing a gastroenterologist who can perform the colonoscopy.
Choose a healthy lifestyle: You’re also at greater risk if you eat a low-fiber, high-fat diet, are obese, use tobacco, drink alcohol, eat very little in the way of fruits or vegetables, and have a sedentary lifestyle. So by addressing these lifestyle issues, you can reduce the associated risk.
What are other risk factors?
Risk factors for colorectal cancer include age (the majority of patients are 50 or older). Other non-controllable risk factors include having been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis; a family history of colorectal cancer; or a genetic predisposition to colorectal cancer showing up as such syndromes as familial adenomatous polyposis or Lynch syndrome.
What are some of the warning signs?
What are the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer? These can include rectal bleeding, a change in bowel habits, abdominal pain or unexplained weight loss. Discuss any changes like these with your primary care provider right away.
What can I expect when preparing for a colonoscopy?
For many people, colon screening comes with preconceptions about the procedure, or even stigmas attached to it. The biggest fear people have with colonoscopies, said gastroenterologist & Director, Department of Medicine at UHSH Amine Hila, MD, is the preparation.
“We have preps that are much, much gentler now,” he said, particularly compared to what some have experienced in the past. “It’s a lot more tolerable; patients experience much less discomfort associated with the preparation.” And for the actual procedure, patients are sedated. “People are asleep throughout the entire process, so they feel no pain,” he noted.
In addition, people at average or low risk for colon cancer may have another option.
“If you’re very apprehensive toward getting a colonoscopy, there is another test available called Cologuard,” Dr. Hila said. "This is a non-invasive, at-home screening method that can put patients at ease with their fears of colonoscopies.” However, Cologuard is not as effective as colonoscopy, which is why it is generally used for lower-risk patients.
It's important to know that the best test is the one that gets done, so talk with your healthcare provider today about your risk of colorectal cancer and which type of test is recommended for you. National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is an opportune time to get it scheduled!
Bowling event to benefit ‘Sock Out’
The providers and staff of the GI Lab at UHS will be participating in “Bowlin’ for Colons,” a team bowling fundraising event, to be held on Saturday, March 16, at Midway Lanes in Vestal. Proceeds will benefit the “Sock Out Cancer” endeavor to help cancer patients in Greater Binghamton.
“We want to reach out to our community, the people we serve, and raise awareness of colon cancer,” said John Pittarelli, RN, nurse manager at the GI Lab. “We chose Sock Out Cancer as a charitable effort to support because it is a local charity that assists those in need when facing a cancer diagnosis.” For more information on Bowlin’ for Colons, visit nys.org.
For more information on all Gastroenterology services at UHS, visit our website at nyuhs.org
UHS is a locally owned, not-for-profit hospital and healthcare system serving Greater Binghamton and surrounding counties. Founded in 1981, UHS provides a full range of medical, surgical, rehabilitative and long-term care services throughout New York’s Southern Tier.
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