Colercetal cancer and screening no joking matter

Dr. Kurt Ammerman
Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Holy Rosary Healthcare

It’s no secret that most people don’t like to thinkmuch less talk—about getting a colonoscopy. At the same time, comedians have made a veritable goldmine out of joking about this medical procedure, from the preparation to waking up afterward.

The reality is, however, that colorectal cancer and the screenings that diagnose it are no laughing matter. And discussing both with your healthcare provider is something every adult should be doing.

Why? Because colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the U.S. among those affecting women and men alike—and early diagnosis is key to high survival rates. In fact, the American Cancer Society reports that the five-year survival rate for those diagnosed early is over 90 percent.

Some of the common signs of colon cancer include changes in bowel habits that last more than a few days, unintended weight loss, rectal bleeding, blood in the stool, and belly pain. These same symptoms, however, are also associated with other, often less-serious health concerns. That’s why it’s so important if you are experiencing any of them, that you talk to your healthcare provider.

Keep in mind that colon cancer may be completely asymptomatic, however. In other words, you may not experience any of the changes I referenced above, especially if the disease is in its earliest stages. Because of that fact, it’s essential that you undergo a screening test such as a colonoscopy at regular intervals.

These screenings not only catch the disease in its earliest stages but can actually even prevent cancers by identifying and removing polyps (pre-cancerous growths).

So when should screening begin? If you are symptom-free and have no family history of colon cancer, screening usually starts at age 45. If you do have a history of colorectal cancer in your family, your doctor may recommend that you start being screened earlier. There are several different types of screenings, and your healthcare provider can talk to you about the type and frequency of screenings that are right for you based on your unique situation.

One of the questions I’m asked by patients is whether there are any steps they can take to reduce their risk of developing colorectal cancer. We know that family history is often associated with this disease and that it is most often diagnosed in people age 50 or over. Obviously, those are factors that can’t be changed.

There are some things that you can do, to lower your risk for the disease—and most are behaviors that are associated with overall good health. Those who are overweight have a higher risk for colorectal cancer, so achieving and maintaining a healthy weight and BMI should be your goal. Reduce your consumption of red and processed meats and add more fiber-rich fruits and vegetables to your diet. And of course, as tobacco use is associated with a variety of cancers, stopping smoking or chewing tobacco also quietly reduces your risk.

( Kurt Ammerman is a surgeon at Holy Rosary Healthcare in Miles City.)