By Gregory P. Midis, MD, FACS, Surgical Oncologist
You may not realize that March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month. It doesn’t usually garner a lot of news coverage and attention like Breast Cancer Awareness month in October. But, because colon cancer is the second deadliest cancer in the United States, it deserves attention, and its own month for awareness
The American Cancer Society expects nearly 143,000 Americans to be diagnosed with colon cancer this year. An estimated 50,000 people in the U.S. will die from colon cancer in 2013.
Those are certainly sobering statistics, but here’s a good number to consider: if colon cancer is found at the local stage (confined to the colon or rectum), the five year survival rate is 90%. 90%! That’s great odds, but the key is the catching it in the early stage of development. That’s when treatment is most effective.
This is why regular screening is so important. My advice to you is: get screened. And, especially if your doctor is telling you to get screened for colon cancer: do it.
In most cases, screening can prevent colon cancer by finding and removing polyps in the colon before they become cancer. Lots of times I see patients who didn’t follow up and do the screening.
The most common screening test in the United States is a colonoscopy. During a colonoscopy, a physician uses a long, flexible tube called a colonoscope, to look at the lining of your colon. Changes or abnormalities can be spotted, tissue samples and be taken, and polyps can be removed.
I recently had a 25-year old patient who had a colonoscopy because of a persistent change in her bowel habits over several months. Although she is younger than the average colon cancer patient, a large cancerous polyp was discovered.
Fortunately, it was in an early stage. I was able to laparoscopically remove the diseased portion of her sigmoid colon and several lymph nodes. She did not require radiation or chemotherapy. The patient was understandably relieved that her cancer was detected at a manageable stage.
The bottom line: colorectal cancer is very common and very preventable. Get screened.
American Center Society guidelines for early colon cancer detection:
- Screening test every 10 years, beginning at age 50
- Screen earlier if there’s a personal or family history of polyps or colon cancer.
- Talk to your doctor if you have changes in your bowel habits, such as blood, pain or a change in frequency.
About Greg Midis, MD, FACS
Dr. Midis is a surgical oncologist with Premier Surgical Associates’ Fort Sanders Regional office in Knoxville, TN. He specializes in surgical treatment for colorectal cancer. He is passionate about the importance of screening and early detection.
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