The American Cancer Society estimates that this year alone 50,000 deaths will be due to colon cancer. More than 135,000 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer this year, which has become the third leading cause of death from cancer in the United States.
The best way to not become one of these statistics is two-fold: take care of yourself and get a colonoscopy. These death rate statistics are the reason we do colonoscopies. Right now, one in 21 men and one in 23 women have a lifetime risk of developing colon cancer.
Unlike many types of cancer that can be harder to find at early, curable stages, colon cancer has a wonderful screening tool that can detect pre-cancerous polyps before they evolve into cancer.
That’s why we recommend everyone get a colonoscopy at age 50, unless symptoms such as rectal bleeding, worsening constipation, unexplained weight loss or unexplained abdominal pain present themselves before 50, then a colonoscopy may be necessary sooner.
Family history of colon cancer is a huge risk factor. So if you have a first-degree relative that has had colon cancer, we want to do that first colonoscopy 10 years earlier.
The other big risk factor is lifestyle. By this I mean everything from your diet to smoking habits to exercise. All three of those are big contributors to colon cancer; so we recommend you do not smoke, eat a diet high in fiber and lower in saturated fat and get plenty of physical activity.
There are certain cultures in other countries where the diet primarily consists of grains and fiber and they have virtually no instances of colon cancer, so we know there is a direct correlation.
During a routine colonoscopy, we are able to go in via a scope and look at the inside of the lower GI tract.
Colon cancer typically starts in the form of a polyp. So what we do during a colonoscopy if polyps are present is remove them, so they don’t grow into cancer. They might not cause any symptoms until they grow into cancer, so you want to remove them while they are asymptomatic.
The procedure is relatively simple and can take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes.
If you do have polyps that have to be removed during a colonoscopy, you may need a surveillance colonoscopy every two to five years depending on the type of polyps that were removed.
If no polyps were found or removed during a colonoscopy, a patient only needs to have one every 10 years as long as there is no family history.
If colon cancer was detected, or polyps that were removed during a colonoscopy are found to be cancerous, the next step is surgery. During the surgery, we remove the section of the colon that has the cancer in it as well as the lymph nodes. The status of those nodes will determine whether or not a patient needs chemotherapy after surgery.
But we’ve come a long way with this surgery. We can do this procedure now laproscopically, so we use a smaller incision that ever before, which means less pain during healing and a more rapid return to work and normal life. The average hospital stay now for a normal colon resection is three to five days.
The main reason for the hospital stay is so we can monitor
a patient for post-operative bleeding. You can’t eat immediately after this surgery, so it’s important we monitor that and ensure that a patient starts with clear liquids and progresses slowly from there so we don’t put too much stress on the area of the colon that was reattached.
It is a very successful surgery that generally only takes a couple of hours. Most patients return to work in three to four weeks.
In most cases, a patient will have to see one physician at one facility for a colonoscopy and a different physician at a different facility for a surgery if that is necessary.
At Williamson Medical Group, we take referrals from other physicians, but are also able to do both the initial scope and surgery if warranted. In many cases, I try to do the surgery the very next day after a scope to save the patient the hassle of having to go through the 24 hours of preparation for a procedure twice.
Prior to a colonoscopy, we ask patients to consume only do clear liquids for an entire day to clean out the colon as much as possible, so our goal is to make that process as easy as we can.
Colon cancer is definitely a disease that is easily preventable and treatable – if you will get a routine colonoscopy. It could save your life.
So if you think you might be due for a routine colonoscopy or have questions about the scope or the surgery, don’t hesitate to call my office at Williamson Medical Group at 615-794-8900.Share this Article