By Dr Gregory Neal

All of the surgeons at The Surgical Clinic recognize March as Colon Cancer Awareness Month, but there is a strong feeling that every month should be a time to remind everyone of the signs and symptoms. With early diagnosis comes our best hope for battling this cancer.

This year an estimated 136,000 new colon cancers will be diagnosed in the United States, or 12,000 per month. Having served as the former State Chair for the Commission on Cancer with The American College of Surgery, and as a surgical member of The Surgical Clinic, I have a personal interest in gastrointestinal endoscopy, surgery, and treatments. I see daily the impact on patients and families from this preventable disease.

Proactive surveillance and compliance are key for preventive screening. Symptoms and genetic risk factors may alter the average recommended first screening at age 50. Some common and often neglected symptoms include blood in the stool, weight loss, symptoms or anemia such as abnormal fatigue or pallor. Several simple screening tests that check for unseen blood in the stool are available from your primary care physician and should be a routine part of your routine physical beginning around age 50 or sooner if you have a family history of colon cancer. A positive test may be an indicator for further testing or screening by colonoscopy.

Endoscopy remains the GOLD standard for prevention and also allows for removal or biopsy of any polyps found on the exam with minimal risk. The procedure is usually done in an outpatient setting and is quick and comfortable with light sedation. The bowel cleansing done the night before has been improved over the past several years despite the horror stories that many report. If a cancer is found during the exam, treatment often involves surgery and may include additional post operative treatments depending on the stage after diagnosis. The earlier it is discovered the better and colostomies or “bags” are rarely indicated.

Colon and rectal cancers are one of the few cancers that can be screened and often prevented. Diets high in fiber, with exercise and weight control are preventive of many diseases including cancer. Encourage yourself and your family to get routine screening when appropriate or talk to your physician to help decrease the incidence and impact of colon cancer on your community. As always, feel free to call one of our offices at The Surgical Clinic if you have questions or concerns.