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Colorectal Cancer Month: The Importance of Early Detection

In Brief

  • March is National Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS), approximately 140,000 new cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed every year and another 56,000 people die annually of this disease.
  • In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, a colorectal surgeon or gastroenterologist will use diagnostic procedures and tests to screen for colorectal cancer.
  • As with most diseases, prevention is the best prescription for decreasing your risk. Practice a healthy lifestyle and see your specialist regularly to lower your risk of colorectal cancer.

March is National Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS), approximately 140,000 new cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed every year in the United States and another 56,000 people die annually of this disease. But colorectal cancer is a disease that can be prevented and cured if detected and treated early.

“Colorectal cancer (often referred to as colon cancer) occurs when abnormal cells grow in the lining of the rectum or colon,” says Mark Jacobs, M.D., chief of the Section of Gastroenterology at Delaware County Memorial Hospital. “The cause of colon cancer is still unknown, but proper screening and early detection matched with the appropriate treatment plan can help to cure this disease.”

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, a colorectal surgeon or gastroenterologist will use the following diagnostic procedures to screen for colorectal cancer:

  • Digital rectal examination (DRE)
  • Fecal occult blood test: Checks for hidden (occult) blood in the stool.
  • Sigmoidoscopy: Allows the physician to examine the inside of a portion of the large intestine.
  • Colonoscopy: Allows the physician to view the entire length of the large intestine. The physician can see the lining of the colon, remove tissue for further examination, and possibly treat some problems that are discovered.
  • Barium enema: A fluid called barium (a metallic, chemical, chalky, liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on an X-ray) is placed into the rectum to partially fill up the colon. An X-ray of the abdomen shows strictures (narrowed areas), obstructions (blockages) and other problems.
  • Biopsy
  • Blood count: To check for anemia (a result of bleeding from a tumor). 

“There are certain risk factors associated with colorectal cancer,” says Immanuel Ho, M.D., chief of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. “The most important risk factors for colorectal cancer are age, a family history of colon cancer, personal history of a precancerous colon polyp, or certain conditions such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s colitis.”

“The best time to diagnose colorectal cancer is before symptoms appear. Therefore, screening is essential,” says Stephen Silver, M.D., chief of the Section of Colon and Rectal Surgery at Delaware County Memorial Hospital. “If you experience blood in the stool, stomach cramping and pains, changes in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation and narrowing of the stool), decreased appetite, vomiting, weakness and fatigue, it’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible. Even symptomatic colorectal cancer can be treated successfully.”

The symptoms of colorectal cancer may resemble other conditions, such as infections, hemorrhoids and inflammatory bowel disease. It’s always important to consult your physician for a diagnosis.

Treatment of colorectal cancer depends on how early the disease is found. “Surgery is the most common form of treatment for cancers found at an early stage, meaning the disease has not spread outside the colorectal area,” says John W. Seedor, M.D., chief of the Section of Gastroenterology at Taylor Hospital. “Depending on whether or not the cancer has spread outside the bowel wall, surgery may be followed up with a course of chemotherapy alone or in combination with radiation therapy.”

As with most diseases, prevention is the best prescription for decreasing your risk. Practice a healthy lifestyle and see your specialist regularly to lower your risk of colorectal cancer.

For more information about Crozer-Keystone Cancer Services, visit http://ckcancer.crozer.org or call 1-866-695-HOPE (1-866-695-4673) to request a prompt appointment with a Crozer-Keystone physician who treats cancer patients.

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