Colon Cancer Screening: March 19, 2019

Each year, nearly 150,000 new cases of colon cancer are diagnosed.  “Colon cancer is one of the highest cancer killers in the country, but it is very preventable, that’s the important part,” explained Dr. Janette Gaw, a colorectal surgeon on the medical staff of Lee Health.

Colonoscopies can prevent colon cancer.  “A Colonoscopy prevents colon cancer, and yet if we look at our rates of screening there’s maybe 60 percent of people get it,” said Dr. Gaw.

The outpatient procedure should be done starting at age 50—but if a patient has a family history or symptoms, they may need to get screened earlier.  “If you have a family member with colon cancer and they were diagnosed at age 50, then you should get it ten years younger at 40. If somebody has bleeding that I can’t explain if somebody has any changes to their bowel habits, any weight loss that’s unusual, then we would get a colonoscopy sooner than later,” she explained.

Patients are at a higher risk of developing colon cancer if they have inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. “Polyps are the things that can eventually grow up to become cancers. So when we do a colonoscopy and we take out a polyp then the whole idea is that hopefully you never get cancer,” Dr. Gaw said.

If a patient doesn’t have polyps, the recommendation is a colonoscopy every ten years.  “Once they have a polyp then they are coming back in five years. If it’s a big polyp that’s kind of risky then it can be a year or even three years,” she said.

If a patient has colon cancer, treatments can include surgery and possibly chemotherapy. Making it important to know your body and talk to your doctor about getting screened.