Schedule Your Colorectal Cancer Screening
Isn’t knowing for sure better than assuming? As we age, certain screenings become an important part of our routine and give us a better understanding of our physical health. Among those is colorectal screenings. Tests like colonoscopies can not only provide a clear image of a patient’s health but can also detect and treat cancer in its earliest stages before it can become a more serious problem.
Colorectal cancer by the numbers
According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer diagnosed in men and women in the United States. In fact, the American Cancer Society estimates 106,180 new cases of colon cancer and 44,850 new cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed in 2022.
According to Culbertson Memorial Hospital gastroenterology specialist Dr. John Bozdech, MD, risk factors for colorectal cancer include obesity, diabetes, excessive alcohol consumption, excessive consumption of processed meat, and lack of physical activity.
“A better diet and more activity can reduce the risk of colon cancer, as well as the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Bozdech said.
Men and women are roughly at an equal risk of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer — men carry a 4.3% lifetime risk while women carry a 4.0% lifetime risk. From 2013 to 2017, incidence rates dropped by about 1% each year. However, incidence rate increased from 2012-2016 by 2% in people under 50 and 1% in people ages 50-64.
Death rates have followed a similar trend throughout the last several decades. This is partly due to colorectal polyps are being found more often and removed during screenings and cancers are being found early on. Treatments have also improved, resulting in more than 1.5 million survivors today. Early detection is critical — 90% of colon cancer deaths can be prevented by a colonoscopy.
“Research shows that habits related to diet, weight, and exercise are strongly linked to colorectal cancer risk,” said Culbertson Memorial Hospital surgeon Dr. Harsha Polavarapu, MD. “Changing some of these lifestyle habits may be hard, but making the changes can also lower the risk for many other types of cancer as well as other serious diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
According to Dr. Polavarapu, some actions patients can take to minimize their risk of colorectal cancer include:
- Getting screened for colorectal cancer. Screenings are tests that look for cancer before signs and symptoms develop. These tests can find colon or rectal cancer earlier when treatments are more likely to be successful. The American Cancer Society recommends testing starting at age 45 for people at average risk. Some colorectal screening tests can also find and remove precancerous growths (polyps) in the colon or rectum. Polyps are not cancer, but over time cancer can start in the polyps. Removing them lowers the risk of cancer. Talk to your health care provider about when you should start screening and which tests might be right for you.
- Eating lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Diets that include lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains have been linked with a decreased risk of colon or rectal cancer. Also, eat less red meat — beef, pork, or lamb — and processed meats such as hot dogs and some lunch meats, which have been linked with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
- Getting regular exercise. If you are not physically active, you may have a greater chance of developing colorectal cancer. Being more active may help reduce your risk. Learn more about how to meet diet and exercise goals.
- Taking control of your weight. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of getting and dying from colon or rectal cancer. Eating healthier and increasing your physical activity can help you control your weight.
- Quitting smoking. People who have been smoking for a long time are more likely than people who don't smoke to develop and die from colon or rectal cancer. If you smoke and you want to quit, or know someone else who does, see the American Cancer Society guide to quitting tobacco, or call us at 1-800-227-2345. Getting help increases your chances of quitting successfully.
- Avoiding alcohol. Alcohol use has been linked with a higher risk of colorectal cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. A single drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (i.e., hard liquor).
No matter how you manage your risk, you should still schedule a colorectal cancer screening to ensure peace of mind. Culbertson providers recommend a colonoscopy as the gold standard of colorectal cancer detection.
“A colonoscopy is a test for both cancer and precancerous polyps. A colonoscopy allows us to detect colon cancer and early curable stage as well as to remove the things that could grow into cancer,” Dr. Bozdech said. “A Colonoscopy therefore is not just for the detection of cancer, but it is also for the prevention of colon cancer.”
According to Dr. Bozdech, people at an average risk for colorectal cancer should schedule screenings beginning at age 45, though some factors — such as family history of colon cancer or advanced colon polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, or history of abdominal radiation — may require scheduling earlier. According to Dr. Polavarapu, if screenings come back with no polyps, you shouldn’t need another for 10 years. If the screening shows polyps, another screening should be scheduled in five years.
“Remember that 90% of people who have colon cancer have no family history, so the lack of a family history does not mean that screening is unnecessary,” Dr. Bozdech said.
Before your colonoscopy, your provider will ask you to fast for 24 hours. During this time, solid food will not be allowed, though a clear liquid diet of water, coffee, sports drinks, and broth will be allowed. Your provider will also provide bowel prep instructions by means of a liquid prep — such as polyethylene glycol — or SUTAB prep.
“The preparation for colonoscopy and the procedure itself have improved greatly. Most people are on clear liquids a day before the test and are given a preparation based on a tasteless powder laxative, polyethylene glycol, and a flavored sports drink,” Dr. Bozdech said. “Although this will cause a lot of bowel movements, most people tolerate this very well especially compared to some older ways of preparing the colon.”
Generally, a colonoscopy takes about a half-hour. During the colonoscopy, you will be put under with intravenous sedation — you will not be awake during the procedure. If any polyps are found, they can be removed during the colonoscopy — larger polyps may require follow-up procedures. Recovery lasts about a half-hour. Immediately after the procedure, doctors and nurses will consult with you on their findings. You will also need to ensure you have a friend or relative present to drive you home.
“If a patient is diagnosed with colorectal cancer, we use a team-based approach to treat it. Based on the location and type of the tumor, the main stay of the treatment is surgical removal of the tumor,” Dr. Polavarapu said. “Some patients may benefit from chemotherapy or radiation, so we always take input from all the specialists before we decide the best approach for each individual patient.”
Colorectal screenings — including colonoscopies — can be scheduled at the Culbertson Memorial Hospital Outpatient Clinic.
Peace of mind is as easy as making one phone call. To schedule your colonoscopy, call the Outpatient Specialty Clinic at (217) 322-5271.