Monday, March 1, 2010

Colon Cancer Screenings Save Lives

by Sandra Crockett

Talking about colorectal cancer may make you wince. But discussing it with your physician is a key to good health. In fact, it may save your life.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and a good opportunity to discuss colon cancer screenings, which are relatively painless. For African Americans, the recommended age for screening is now 45.

“For uncertain reasons, African-Americans often have more advanced cancers at the time of diagnosis, hence the modified guidelines,” says John C. Rabine, M.D. The recommended age to begin screenings for other ethnic groups remains 50.

Rabine, a gastroenterologist at Sinai Hospital, points out that colon cancer is the third most common cancer in this country.

“And – depending on which study is cited - a colonoscopy reduces that risk by 65-90 percent," he says.

Colonoscopies are powerful tools that only needs to be done every 8-10 years in patients who are considered "average-risk" for colon cancer. Cancer of the colon or rectum causes an estimated 55,000 deaths each year, according to the American Journal of Gastroenterology. More than 138,000 new cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed annually, and men and women are equally susceptible to the disease.

Sudhir K. Dutta, M.D., head of Sinai’s Division of Gastroenterology, and Rabine’s preferred method of screening for cancer is the colonoscopy. A colonoscopy allows a doctor to look inside the entire large intestine. The procedure, which enables the physician to see things such as inflamed tissue, abnormal growths (polyps) and ulcers, is most often used to look for early signs of cancer in the colon and rectum.

“It is somewhat of a misnomer to call it a screening test, as it is really intended to remove polyps and be a preventative test,” Rabine says.

All colon cancers arise from polyps, which are benign growths that can occur in several locations in the gastrointestinal tract. They vary in size and look like small bumps growing from the lining of the bowel. If identified at a very early stage, they can be removed before they become cancerous, usually while the doctor is examining the large intestine during a colonoscopy.

“Polyps are very common in adults,” says Dutta, who explains that there is an increased chance of developing them as you age. He adds that with appropriate screening like the colonoscopy, “we should be seeing fewer cases of colon cancer.”

The Endoscopy Center at Sinai Hospital is the principal site of GI diagnostic work, providing endoscopic procedures of the gastrointestinal tract including the esophagus, stomach, duodenum and colon. Using state-of-the-art equipment, medical specialists can provide a quick and accurate diagnosis of a GI problem.

To schedule an appointment or learn more, call 410-601-WELL (9355).

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