Preventing Colon Cancer: The Most Effective Screening Test
Colon cancer causes more than 600,000 deaths annually worldwide and is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. However, with timely screenings, this cancer can be prevented. Dr. Chris Lascarides, a board-certified gastroenterologist at Stony Brook Digestive Disorders Institute, talks about what people need to know and what they can do right now about this disease.
What is the most important thing to know about colon cancer?
That it can be prevented. Colon cancer starts as polyps in the colon. It takes approximately seven to eight years for a polyp to develop into cancer, and during this time, a person may not experience any symptoms. Unlike other cancers, the cancer cells do not spread outside the polyp during this time period. Essentially, this means if you find and remove the polyp, you eliminate the risk of cancer. In all other cancers, we promote early detection because the earlier you start treatment, the better the outcomes. With colon cancer, early detection and removal of polyps means that cancer may not develop at all.
How is it detected?
Through a screening test called a colonoscopy. During this test, which typically takes less than a half hour, gastroenterologists use an endoscopic imaging technique to check the lining of the colon for polyps. If found, most can be removed during the procedure.
Are colonoscopies uncomfortable?
Not any more. Today’s colonoscopies are quick and almost entirely pain free, thanks to two major advancements. First, the new prep solution that patients drink in advance is tasteless and less irritating to the stomach. Second, better sedatives allow patients to be fully asleep for the procedure. The majority of patients wake up with no discomfort or any after effects.
What are the recommended screening guidelines?
Men and women with no family history of colon cancer should have their first screening colonoscopy at age 50, then every five years after that. Think of it as a preventive maintenance procedure similar to a check up. People with a family history of colon cancer should start screenings at age 40 or 10 years earlier than the age that their relative had cancer. For example, if your father had colon cancer at age 45, you should get your first screening at 35. Also, recent studies show that because African-Americans have a higher risk of colon cancer, they may want to start screenings at age 45.
Does Stony Brook offer colonoscopies?
Yes, in fact, we perform a high volume of them — more than 3,500 a year. In the medical field, high volumes correlate with high quality because the more a physician or a team performs a procedure, the more efficient the process, the lower the error rate and the more prepared they are to handle anything out of the ordinary.
At Stony Brook’s Digestive Disorders Institute, the gastroenterologists performing procedures are board certified with advanced training. Team members include board-certified anesthesiologists, specially trained technologists and nurses who only care for patients undergoing these procedures. This nursing component makes a significant difference because they focus on not only taking care of the body but also addressing emotional needs, ensuring that patients feel comfortable and safe from start to finish.
Stony Brook also has all the latest diagnostic and surgical technology, including high-definition endoscopes and narrow band imaging, that allows for clearer images and more precise treatment of polyps or suspicious lesions. In addition, because Stony Brook is an academic medical center, if cancer is detected, we have a comprehensive cancer care program that allows patients to receive the advanced care they need, all in one place.
To schedule a colonoscopy screening, call (631) 444-4000.
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