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New Ulm Medical Center

Putting a stop to colon cancer

A 2012 goal at the New Ulm Medical Center is to increase the rate of vitally important colorectal cancer screenings among its patients.

If you are age 50 or older, one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy is to schedule a colorectal cancer screening with your doctor. At this age, the risk of developing colon cancer increases for most people. Screening can help doctors find precancerous polyps — and then remove them — before they turn into cancer.

Stephen Gilles, MD, a family medicine physician at the New Ulm Medical Center, understands the risks of colon cancer very well. That’s why he and the staff at the center are working to increase the percentage of patients who are having colorectal cancer screenings in the coming year.

“Colorectal screening is one of the best tools we have in catching colon cancer early, before a person may become symptomatic,” Gilles said. “The earlier we catch the cancerous or pre-cancerous cells, the better the prognosis for that patient becomes.”

Who Needs Colorectal Cancer Screening?

Colorectal cancer screening is typically performed starting at age 50, and then at regular intervals afterward for both men and women. But some at-risk individuals may need screening earlier and more often, said Gilles. For example, patients with a close relative who has had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer might be screened earlier. Individuals with inflammatory bowel disease or genetic syndromes like familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer are also at greater risk.

“It’s best to talk to your provider about when you should begin routine testing,” Gilles said. “He or she can make a recommendation for you based on all these factors.”

How the Screening Is Done

Most people assume a colonoscopy is the only option for colorectal cancer screening. This procedure involves the doctor inserting a long, thin, flexible lighted tube inside the rectum, and then examining the entire rectum and colon for polyps or cancer. It’s a bit uncomfortable, but it’s a small price to pay for preventing a potentially life-threatening cancer. Plus, the procedure is much less invasive now than it was in the past.

Unfortunately, many people avoid the test due to fears about the procedure. However, most people have sedation for this procedure and afterwards report that the procedure itself was not as bad as they feared.

“What many people don’t realize, however, is that there are other, less invasive means of performing colorectal cancer screening,” Gilles said. One option is a flexible sigmoidoscopy. This is actually similar to a colonoscopy, but the doctor does not probe as deeply into the colon. As a result, the procedure is much less invasive. Patients undergoing a flexible sigmoidoscopy do not have sedation.

The least invasive form of colorectal cancer screening is high sensitivity fecal occult blood testing, or FOBT. This test simply involves obtaining a stool sample at home, which your doctor then checks for blood. This test is about 25 percent effective, Gilles said.

In many instances, these less invasive tests can be used to screen for colorectal cancer in place of a colonoscopy. So if the fear of colonoscopy has prevented you from seeing your doctor for a colorectal cancer screening in the past, these procedures could make it easier for you. Armed with this information, it might be the right time to schedule an appointment and help prevent this potentially life-threatening cancer.

For more information about colorectal screening, call 507-217-5011 to schedule an appointment with your provider.

Source: Krames StayWell
Reviewed by: Stephen Gilles, MD
First Published: 02/01/2012
Last Reviewed: 02/01/2012