Screening for Colon Cancer Can Save
Colon cancer is the
third most common cancer, and the second most common cause of cancer death.
Five percent of the population in this country will develop it. Symptoms of
colon cancer show up quite late in the disease process, mainly because the
colon can accommodate a large tumor before bleeding or bowel-movement changes
occur. The good news is that colon cancer is really preventable.
Colon cancer always
begins as a benign polyp in the colon; there are no symptoms for years. During
a screening procedure called a colonoscopy, a gastroenterologist can easily
find these polyps and remove them. It doesn't hurt. Once a polyp is removed, it
can no longer grow into a cancer. If everyone with a family history of colon
cancer got screened at age forty, and everyone else got screened at age 50, we
could go a long way toward eliminating the 140,000 new cases of colon cancer
July 1, 2001, Medicare has approved screening colonoscopies for people 65 years
and older. This is a major step in colon cancer prevention in this country, and
it is our hope that private insurers will decide to follow Medicare guidelines.
now, national medical standards call for screening of the general population to
begin at age 50. There are three screening methods for colon cancer. The most
thorough screening test is the colonoscopy. This is the most invasive of the
three tests, but it is safe and can truly save your life. Colonoscopies are
performed by all of the area gastroenterologists, and they are done at Cayuga Medical
Center in the Outpatient
Services Department or at Surgicare.
before a colonoscopy, you cleanse the colon by drinking a special fluid that
will completely empty your bowels. The preparation used now is much easier to
tolerate than it was even a couple of years ago.
prior to the examination, the doctor will give you medication to sedate you.
You will be asleep during the procedure and will typically feel nothing. A
friend or relative must be on hand to drive you home afterwards because the
effects of the sedation make it unsafe for you to drive yourself. If no polyps
are found during your screening colonoscopy and if you have no family history
of colon cancer, you probably will not need another exam for about ten years.
Not much changes in the colon over the short term.
second colon cancer screening method is a flexible sigmoidoscopy,
during which your doctor examines the lower third of your colon. More than 50
percent of colon cancers develop in the lower third of the colon, so this is a
viable option for people with no family history of colon cancer and no
abdominal symptoms. A sigmoidoscopy can also be done
in your doctor's office. If polyps are found during a sigmoidoscopy,
your doctor will recommend a colonoscopy to examine the remaining portion of
your intestinal tract.
screening method is an occult blood test. This should be done annually starting
at age 50, as part of your annual physical. This test is done at home where you
capture a small sample of stool and send it in to your doctor's office on a
special card. The limitations of this screening test are that most polyps don't
bleed and many conditions that do produce blood in the stool are not cancer, so
this test is not the most accurate.
your doctor about your risks for colon cancer. Discuss screening methods and
prevention, and talk specifically about having a colonoscopy, especially if you
are at risk. A family history of colon cancer makes your risk three times that
of the general population. Local gastroenterologists perform about 3,000
colonoscopies a year. It is a common procedure and widely recognized as an
extremely effective preventive measure for what is an often-fatal disease.
Medicare's recent decision to cover the cost of screening colonoscopies in
people over 65 is an important step toward eliminating this dreadful disease.
Dr. Rogers is board certified in
gastroenterology and internal medicine. He is on staff at Cayuga
and is in practice with Gastroenterology Associates of Ithaca, where he can be reached at (607)
Dr. Rogers attended Mount Sinai School
of Medicine in New York City.
He completed his internship and residency in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital,
an affiliate of Harvard
University. He completed
a three-year fellowship in gastroenterology at Massachusetts General Hospital.