The importance of prevention against colon cancer
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, which is a time to share the statistics and spread awareness to the importance of prevention and education about colorectal cancer. Dr. Stuart Thomas, a physician with Lawrence GI Consultants and the new LMH Health Chief Medical Officer, said it is estimated that at least every 1 in 25 Americans will have colorectal cancer at some point in their lives if they do not participate in screenings.
“Colonoscopy is the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening that all other tests are compared to,” he said. “It may be a hassle to do the bowel prep for the procedure, but you get the best test as a result. A colonoscopy really does save lives. Among those who keep up with their colonoscopies as recommended, less than 1 in 1000 will develop colorectal cancer.”
He said most Americans should start colorectal cancer screening at age 50. Some groups have started recommended screening at age 45, but this is not a universal recommendation yet.
“Pay attention to the news because this may change in the next few months to years,” Dr. Thomas said. “Regardless of your age, you should talk to your doctor about the right age for you to start screening. Some people with a family history of colorectal cancer may need to start screening at an earlier age.”
In term of signs and symptoms to look for, he said there are usually none. If symptoms develop, it is typically blood in the stool.
“The most common sign of colon cancer is anemia (low blood) and iron deficiency,” Dr. Thomas said. “There are other causes of anemia, but if we see iron deficiency anemia, we routinely recommend colonoscopy to ensure there is no colorectal cancer. If you see blood in your stool, you should definitely talk to your doctor about it.”
However, he said screening is best done before you have symptoms, which gives you the best chance at avoiding cancer or finding it while it can still be removed.
Though colonoscopies are proven to help reduce your likelihood of getting colorectal cancer, some are still hesitant to get one. He confirmed the screening is effective and he also added that any risks of complications are low.
“While a colonoscopy is considered to be very safe, complications do occur, but they are rare,” Dr. Thomas said. “The most common complication is bleeding and this usually results from removing pre-cancerous polyps. This happens in about 2% of colonoscopies and is rarely life-threatening. The more serious, life-threatening complications occur in less than 1% of colonoscopies. Even then, most of the more serious complications do not result in any loss of life.”
We understand concerns regarding COVID-19 and continue to see patients who have reservations about coming into a hospital to receive services while the virus is still around. Though these times are uncertain, we can assure you that our clinics are practicing all safety procedures strictly. Dr. Thomas said LMH Health is going to great lengths to protect our patients and the community from the spread of COVID in the Endoscopy Center. It is important not to delay care or necessary screenings.
“COVID has changed how we do a lot of things and we have adapted at the Endoscopy Center as well,” He said. “While you can postpone your colonoscopy until after the pandemic has ended, I do not recommend it. Delaying the procedure puts you at risk for a delayed diagnosis. These delays give polyps time to develop into colorectal cancer. It also gives cancer time to grow and become more advanced.”
Dr. Thomas said the Lawrence community does a good job at screening, but we could do better. While colorectal cancer screening is not anyone’s favorite conversation topic, it is among the more important things we can talk about.
“We should support each other in getting screened,” he said. “Talk about your colonoscopy if you’ve had one. Share your experience with friends. Offer to help those who are struggling to get it done. Share tips for the bowel prep. Together with screenings and support from family, friends and physicians, we can create a healthier future.”