Colorectal cancer can be easily detected, yet it remains the 3rd leading cause of cancer in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, one in 24 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in their lifetime. Unfortunately, only about one in three persons in the U.S. gets the recommended screening. If found early, treatment for colorectal cancer is possible. Because of effective screening efforts, there are now more than one million survivors of colorectal cancer in the U.S.
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colonoscopies to detect colorectal cancer are performed routinely in the Veterans Memorial Hospital surgical suite. Typically for a colonoscopy procedure, the patient is in the hospital for approximately just three hours from start to finish. Pictured left to right is some of the surgery staff at Veterans Memorial Hospital with the scope that is used to perform colonoscopies; Suzette Mahoney, RN, Surgery Supervisor; Tara Reisinger, RN; Breanne Bernau, RN; Mark Bishop, CRNA; Andi Goltz, RN; Rachel Berns, RN and Brooke Weighner, RN.
There are different options available for detecting colorectal cancer: stool testing such as testing for blood or DNA; barium enema; and colonoscopy. Colonoscopies are routinely performed at Veterans Memorial Hospital in the surgical department. The procedure itself takes about a half an hour, but plan to be at the hospital for three hours -start to finish. The benefit to having a colonoscopy is that we can find colorectal cancer early when it's still small. During a colonoscopy, we can remove the polyps (questionable tissue growths) before they have a chance to turn into cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, both men and women are at risk for colorectal cancer. Other risk factors include:
- Age 50 or older - younger adults can get it but it's much more common after age 50.
- Personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps
- Personal or family history of bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's
- Certain genetic factors such as Gardner's syndrome, Lynch Syndrome, Ashkenazi Jewish descent, African American descent
- Having Type 2 Diabetes
- Smoking or other tobacco use
- Alcohol intake
- Diets high in red or processed meats
- Physical inactivity
Colorectal cancer might not cause symptoms right away, but if it does, it may cause one or more of these symptoms:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that's not relieved by having one
- Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
- Blood in the stool, which may make the stool look dark
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
If you have questions concerning symptoms or colorectal cancer risk, contact your local healthcare provider for advice.