Good news! We can detect Colon Cancer before it is cancer!

ROB SHELLY 1By Dr. Rob Shelly, a physician with Finger Lakes Community Health, sees patients at Sodus Community Health.

And that’s very good news about Colon Cancer, says Rob Shelly, M.D. at Finger Lakes Community Health. Though Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of non-skin cancer in both men (after prostate cancer and lung cancer) and women (after breast cancer and lung cancer), we have several tests that detect it before it becomes cancer.

And there’s more good news….

The rates of new colorectal cancer cases and deaths among adults aged 50 years or older are decreasing in this country due to the many options for early detection.  Screenings can often find the disease at an early, more treatable stage and prevent some colon cancers altogether. This is because some colon cancer screening tests can find polyps (growths), which can then be removed before they have a chance to become cancerous.

Who should be tested?

“Anyone over the age of 50 should be tested.  Even if you feel well, it is highly recommended. We take the time to explain to our patients their options for testing and encourage them to choose the one that meets their needs,” says Dr. Shelly, Finger Lakes Community Health, a provider of primary healthcare at eight health centers throughout the region, serving over 25,000 patients.

Colon cancer screenings save lives.

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States after lung cancer.  The screenings may be unpopular because they can be inconvenient, but a colonoscopy often doesn’t need to be repeated for up to 10 years (unless you have a family history or other mitigating circumstance).  Here are two tests that are highly recommended:

Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) and fecal immunochemical test (FIT) are used to find tiny amounts of blood in the stool that could be a sign of cancer or large polyps.  People take these tests at home with a kit they receive from their provider’s office, along with instructions.  A positive result will need to be followed up with a colonoscopy to see if polyps or cancer is present.  However, many times the cause of a positive FIT test is a non-cancerous condition, such as ulcers or hemorrhoids.  Stool tests like these need to be done every year.

Colonoscopy is often considered the best screening test, because it can detect cancers that are missed by a FIT test, and because pre-cancerous polyps can be removed at the time of the test.  During the test, a flexible tube with a small camera on the end is used to look at the entire length of the colon and rectum.  If polyps are found, they may be removed during the test.  To prepare for the test, you will need to clean out your colon with laxatives (called a bowel prep).  Most people are sedated during the test.  If nothing is found during the test, you won’t need another one for 10 years.

What exactly is colorectal cancer?

Most colorectal cancers begin as a polyp, a growth in the tissue that lines the inner surface of the colon or rectum.  Polyps may be flat, or they may be raised.  Raised polyps may grow on the inner surface of the colon or rectum like mushrooms without a stalk (sessile polyps), or they may grow like a mushroom with a stalk (pedunculated polyps).  Polyps are common in people older than 50 years of age, and most are not cancerous.  However, a type of polyp known as an adenoma has a risk of becoming a cancer if it is not removed.  When colon cancer is detected at an early stage, current surgical and medical treatments are very effective.

Who is more likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer?

People with a history of inflammatory bowel disease (such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease) have a higher risk of colorectal cancer than people without such conditions.  People who have a family history of colorectal cancer or certain inherited conditions (such as Lynch syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis) also have an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

Ask your provider

“If you’re over 50 and haven’t seen a doctor for a while, it’s a good idea to make an appointment to discuss preventive measures that can preserve your good health.  Insurance will cover the cost of colon cancer screening, and there are programs available that provide this screening free of charge to local residents.  A small investment of your time is well worth the benefit of catching colon cancer early or preventing it before it starts,” said Dr. Shelly.

Dr. Rob Shelly is a physician with Finger Lakes Community Health and sees patients at Sodus Community Health.