During the month of March, health professionals across the U.S. observe National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, when patients, survivors, caregivers and advocates come together to spread awareness for colon cancer by wearing blue, hosting events and discussing the importance of screenings.
More than 50,000 people die from colorectal cancer annually, and about 140,000 are diagnosed, but the disease is considered “preventable, treatable and beatable” by the Colon Cancer Alliance. Colorectal cancer – which affects the lower part of your digestive system – also is considered the second leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Tarun Mullick of Gastrointestinal Health Specialists in Geneva stresses the importance of colonoscopy screenings no matter the time of year. Taking preventative measures, namely a colonoscopy-screening test is a vital first step.
“Colon cancer can affect anyone at any time,” Mullick says. “However, the guidelines for screening indicate starting colon cancer screening at age 50 for all patients, whether they’re men or women. Unless they have family history, in which it would start at the age of 40.”
Screening tests assist in looking for colorectal cancer when a person does not experience symptoms. A patient could have colorectal polyps – a precancerous growth that could spread cancer into the colon – and not know it.
Other symptoms may include:
• Blood in or on stool
• Persistent stomach pain, aches or cramps
• Sudden weight loss
“Colon cancer is one of the most overlooked and late-to-present situations there is,” Mullick says. “Often, those symptoms are in later situations, not earlier, and thus it can affect anyone without symptoms. They should get screened no matter what.”
CDC research states that if every adult age 50 or older had regular screenings, at least 60 percent of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented.
Mullick, who is in his 14th year as a medical practitioner in the Tri-Cities, finds that “there’s a lot of reluctance behind that concept of getting screened” for a handful of reasons.
Sometimes, prospective patients are leery about undergoing anesthesia. Others simply are bothered by the prospect of the procedure itself or the laxative-heavy colonoscopy prep that patients complete the day before the screening.
Mullick says that African-Americans “show a higher predilection of colon cancer,” and therefore recommends accelerating the screening guidelines by five years.
Others who may be at a higher than average risk of colorectal cancer include:
• Those who have had colorectal polyps or cancer before
• Those with relatives who previously have had colorectal polyps or cancer
• Those with inflammatory bowel disease
• Those with genetic syndromes, such as familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer
Mullick is adamant about the importance of being proactive. If you are diagnosed with polyps, he advises to get them removed, and then get a colonoscopy.
“There are many situations in which the surgery itself can be curative if it’s caught early,” he says. “The key is to get screened and to get surveyed periodically, because the preventative aspect or the earlier diagnosis portends a much better outcome, which is a cure.”
Consult your doctor about whether you might require earlier or more frequent screenings.
The Gastrointestinal Health Specialists
2631 Williamsburg Ave. | Geneva | 630-232-2025 | www.mullickmd.com