Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 22, 2014

Have you ever heard of a cancer that can truly be prevented? You may find it hard to believe, but there are forms of cancer that the precancerous cells can be found and removed so the cells cannot form into cancer cells. It may sound too good to be true,

but colorectal cancer cells can actually be found and removed in their precancerous stage.

Unfortunately, colorectal cancer, often referred to as colon cancer, still remains the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States according to a 2014 study by the American Cancer Society. Approximately one in every 20 adults will develop colorectal cancer in his or her lifetime. It is also the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among both men and women and is expected to cause more than 53,000 deaths in 2014. The death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping over the past 20 years, which is most likely because of polyps being found and removed through screening tests and cancer cells being found early when the disease is easier

to cure. Still many people do not take advantage of these screenings.

Colorectal cancer is cancer that occurs in the colon or rectum. The colon is the large intestine or large bowel. The rectum is the passageway that connects the colon to the anus. Colorectal cancer usually develops slowly over several years. A polyp or growth of tissue will begin to form on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. The polyp can be benign – not cancer or malignant – cancer.

“Some polyps that start out as benign can change into cancer,” said Dr. Brad Thompson, a General Surgeon on staff at River Parishes Hospital.

The risk of getting colorectal cancer increases with age. More than 90 percent of cases occur in people who are 50 years old or older. For this reason, the American Cancer Society recommends that adults begin having a colorectal cancer screening at age 50. Adults at a higher

risk of developing colorectal cancer are encouraged to ask their doctor if they should begin having screenings sooner.

Your risk for colorectal cancer may be higher than average if:

• You or a close relative have had colorectal polyp or colorectal cancer.

• You have inflammatory bowel disease.

• You have a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis, an inherited disorder characterized by cancer of the colon or rectum, or hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer.

A colonoscopy is a screening test used to find and remove most polyps and some cancers. For this test, a doctor inserts a colonoscope, a thin, flexible, lighted tube, through the rectum into the colon. The colonoscope has a video camera on the end that is connected to a display monitor so the doctor can see and closely examine the inside of the colon. Special instruments can be passed through the colonoscope to biopsy or remove any suspicious-looking areas such as polyps, if needed. Your doctor will give you preparation instructions prior to having the procedure. Most patients

undergo a two-day preparation beginning with clear liquids the first day followed by a laxative the next day. The patient is then sedated during the procedure. The procedure usually takes about 30 minutes but may take longer if polyps are found.

“When I ask my patients about their procedure, most of them say that it was faster and easier than they had imagined,” said Thompson. “The most important thing to remember is that, when you wake up from the procedure,

you will be thankful that you have a clean bill of health, the precancerous polyps have been found and removed, or if cancer was found, it was found early.”

Precancerous polyps and colorectal cancer don’t always cause symptoms in their early stages. Some people may have symptoms including:

• Blood in or on the stool (bowel movement)

• Stomach pain, aches or cramps that don’t go away

• Unexplained weight loss

“If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor, said Thompson. “They could be caused by something other than colorectal cancer, but the only way to know for sure is to see a doctor.”

Once the cancer is found, your doctor will determine the best treatment options considering the stage of the cancer. The main types of treatment used to treat colon and rectal cancer are: surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and targeted therapy. Depending on the stage of the cancer, two or more of these types of treatment may be combined at the same time or may be used after one another.

“Getting a colonoscopy could be a lifesaver because any precancerous polyps can be removed so they cannot turn into cancer,” said Thompson. “Plus, colorectal cancer does not always exhibit signs or symptoms, so

a patient could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it.”

Thompson is a General Surgeon on staff at River Parishes Hospital. His office, Riverside Surgical Associates, is located in the Rue de Santé Medical Plaza at 501 Rue de Santé, Suite 2, in LaPlace. Appointments may be made by calling 985-652-7880.