Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths for both men and women in the U.S., and it’s often called a silent cancer because it rarely presents with symptoms. The good news is that it is largely preventable through screening tests that help find pre-cancerous polyps.
During March Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, Saint Luke’s East Hospital encourages men and women over the age of 50 to speak with their primary care provider about screening.
"Only about 1 in 3 adults between the ages of 50-75 are getting the recommended screenings for colorectal cancer," said Mary Lynne Lucido, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Saint Luke’s East Hospital. "During a colonoscopy we can remove any overgrowth of abnormal tissues in the colon, which are called polyps. This can prevent the polyps from developing into cancer."
A colonoscopy is the most common test for colorectal cancer. During a colonoscopy, the doctor uses a thin, flexible tube with a camera attached to look at the inner lining of the large intestine and remove any polyps, which are sent for a biopsy. About 20-30 percent of patients who receive a screening colonoscopy will have pre-cancerous polyps removed.
"Colonoscopies are performed while the patient is under sedation and the procedure is painless," said Dr. Lucido. "To prepare, patients have to consume a clear liquid diet 24 hours before the test and do a bowel preparation that involves consuming laxatives. Many patients will find this the most uncomfortable part of the colonoscopy, but it is essential for the success of the screening."
It is recommended that healthy men and women who have no family history of colorectal cancer begin screening at age 50, or age 45 for African Americans. For those who have had a family member diagnosed with colorectal cancer, screening should begin 10 years prior to the age when that person was first diagnosed. The frequency of screenings will depend on the results of the initial colonoscopy.
"Through screening, colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable cancers," said Dr. Lucido. "We also encourage patients to eat a healthy diet that is high in fiber, exercise and stop smoking to help prevent the development of polyps."
For more information or to receive a referral to a Saint Luke’s gastroenterologist, call Saint Luke’s Concierge at 816-932-5100.