With the National Cancer Institute estimating nearly 135,000 new colon cancer cases diagnosed each year, it is surprising that recent figures show that only half of all Americans age 50 and above have had a screening colonoscopy. The good news is that when caught early, colorectal cancer is among the most treatable of all types of cancer.
Unlike other cancers that can appear suddenly and grow quickly, most colon cancers have a long “precancerous” phase, known as colon polyps, and can exist for several years before becoming cancerous. “If these polyps are discovered early and removed promptly, the colon cancer can be prevented. Unfortunately, many otherwise health-conscious people have a ‘don’t-want-to-know’ approach when it comes to protecting themselves against colorectal cancer,” said Cooper University Hospital Gastroenterologist Thomas A. Judge, M.D.
Colorectal cancer starts with polyps, or growths, in the colon lining. Not all polyps become cancerous, but some polyps, known as adenomas, are the precursors of colorectal cancer. Most polyps cause no symptoms. “That’s why it’s so important to have regular colorectal cancer screenings,” Dr. Judge said.
Don’t Ignore Symptoms
A common symptom of colorectal cancer is a change in bowel habits. (For example: changing from having a bowel movement once a day to having a bowel movement only every two or three days.) Symptoms also include:
- Having diarrhea or constipation.
- Feeling that your bowel does not empty completely.
- Finding blood (either bright red or very dark) in your stool.
- Finding your stools are narrower than usual.
- Frequently having gas pains or cramps, or feeling full or bloated.
- Losing weight with no known reason.
- Feeling very tired all the time.
- Having nausea or vomiting.
“More often than not, these symptoms are not due to cancer. Other health problems can cause the same symptoms. But any of these symptoms should be discussed with your doctor in order to be diagnosed and treated as early as possible,” Dr. Judge said.
Fight the Fear Factor
Colorectal cancer is preventable and treatable but continues to be the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. The trouble is, the very thought of a colonoscopy causes most people to avoid having the screening done. This relatively short, painless, out-patient procedure, conducted with mild sedation, can be a life-line to good colon health, and your peace of mind. Even though polyps don’t always become cancerous, polyps discovered during a colonoscopy are routinely removed to reduce the likelihood of developing cancer in the future.
To avoid regrets, take steps now to prevent colorectal cancer and have a colonoscopy screening.
The Cooper Digestive Health Institute’s physician experts provide the most advanced and comprehensive gastroenterology care in South Jersey. In addition to the latest endoscopy and other non-surgical technologies, the Cooper Digestive Health Institute, located at 501 Fellowship Road in Mount Laurel, N.J., offers highly skilled, expert physicians and state-of-the-art technology in a welcoming, patient-centered environment.