Published on March 08, 2019

Get screened for colon cancer - it could save your life

By Jessica Brewer, LMH Health

Dr. Stuart Thomas, with Lawrence GI Consultants, is passionate about people being aware of colorectal cancer.

“Now more than ever, it is easy to get screened for colon cancer, and the screening tests are proven to be very effective,” said Dr. Thomas, whose practice is at 330 Arkansas St., Suite 215.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

Stuart Thomas, MD

Dr. Thomas, who joined the gastroenterology team in 2018, said colorectal cancer is the third-most common cancer in the world. 

“Screening for colon cancer saves more lives than anything else in my practice,” he said. “If colon cancer is identified early, there are more effective treatments.  Early detection is key.”

Colon cancer does not always have symptoms.  But if you have experienced pain in your belly, have blood or very dark spots in your stool, undergone changes in bowel habits or have an unexplained weight loss, then you should make an appointment to see your doctor and discuss these symptoms, which could indicate colorectal cancer. The good news: colorectal cancer is easily discovered with a colonoscopy.

Dr. Thomas hopes that more people will get screened.  People who keep up with their screening are significantly less likely to have colon cancer.  In the United States, the rates of colon cancer have dropped by approximately 30 percent because of colon cancer screening.  Dr. Thomas believes more lives can be saved because only about 60 percent of adults in the United States are up-to-date with colon cancer screenings.  

Colon cancer risk factors

According to the American Cancer Society, you might be able to lower your risk of colorectal cancer by managing some of the risk factors you can control, such as diet and physical activity. Here’s some tips that may help lower your risk:

• Staying at a healthy weight and avoiding weight gain around your midsection

• Increasing the intensity and amount of your activity

• Limiting red and processed meats - and eating more fruits and vegetables

• Avoiding excess alcohol

• Quitting smoking

“Imagine if 100 percent of the population was screened for colon cancer,” Dr. Thomas said. “The rates of colon cancer would drop even further.”

With screening, colon cancer can be found early and can be addressed.

Screening for colon cancer should begin for most people at age 50. “We recommend that those with a family history of colon cancer talk to their physician about when to start screening,” Dr. Thomas said.

A colonoscopy is the gold standard in colon cancer screening.  It also allows for the removal of colon polyps, which prevents the polyps from ever developing into a colon cancer.  Therefore, colonoscopy is used to prevent colon cancer.  However, people find colonoscopies to be a nuisance – primarily because the bowel prep is unpleasant and people have to take one to two days off work for the procedure.

The prep for this procedure involves taking laxatives and clear liquids the day before the procedure. This can be uncomfortable, and people tend to be very hungry. The bowel prep is important because it cleans out the colon, making it easier to detect colon cancer and colon polyps.

While the colonoscopy is the gold standard, but there are alternative ways to screen for colon cancer.

The preferred alternative to the colonoscopy is the fecal immunohistochemical test or FIT. This test requires no prep and uses a stool sample to detect microscopic amounts of blood, which increases the odds of there being a colon cancer.  While the FIT may be more convenient, it is less sensitive than a colonoscopy. Unlike a colonoscopy, the FIT cannot detect colon polyps which eventually can become colon cancer.

“If the FIT comes back positive, then a colonoscopy is needed,” Dr. Thomas said. “So I usually recommend my patients go straight to colonoscopy and get the best screening upfront.”

Jessica Brewer is an intern in the Marketing and Communications Department at LMH Health.

New liver procedure

The gastroenterology team at LMH Health is using a FibroScan to assess the health of patients’ livers. That means fewer liver biopsies, which can be painful. And patients will receive results immediately.

The FibroScan is designed to detect nonalcoholic steatohepatitis – often called NASH – which can develop in patients diagnosed with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. NASH, in turn, can develop into cirrhosis, which means a patient’s liver is severely damaged and eventually fills with scar tissue. The only fix for cirrhosis is a liver transplant. By detecting NASH earlier, the hope is patients and their physicians can take successful steps to prevent cirrhosis.

For more information, call Lawrence GI Consultants, 785-505-2250.

Get screened for colon cancer - it could save your life

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