Although the reminders about the importance of being regularly screened for colorectal cancer are out there, along with signs and symptoms of the disease, you may have thought, “I don’t have any symptoms, so I can skip being screened this year, right?” Wrong! Almost all colon-related cancers arise from premalignant polyps that don’t exhibit noticeable symptoms in the early stages.
When symptoms are noticed – such as changes in stool, unexplained weight loss, pain, or bleeding – the condition has likely advanced, and treatment is more complicated.
“A screening colonoscopy can help prevent colorectal cancer by removing premalignant polyps, and can also help detect existing cancers for earlier treatment and better patient outcomes,” says Tushar Dharia, M.D., a board-certified Gastroenterology specialist at Kelsey-Seybold who cares for patients at the Berthelsen Main Campus and Fort Bend Medical and Diagnostic Center.
Screening is key
Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States and affects men and women almost equally.
“There has been an increase in younger adults developing colorectal cancer, though the majority of first-occurrence cases are in those 50 and older. African-Americans have a higher risk of colorectal cancer,” says Dr. Dharia. “Shockingly, more than 30 percent of adults have never been screened, and there’s evidence that African-Americans are less likely than Caucasians to have screening tests for colorectal cancer.”
The gold standard of early detection and treatment is the colonoscopy. The doctor uses a colonoscope – a flexible tube with a camera on the end – to visualize the colon and search for any polyps or tumors. While the idea of this can be embarrassing, imagine the ordeal of getting cancer – a cancer you might have prevented. During the colonoscopy, the doctor will remove suspicious polyps and have them checked for precancerous cells.
Tips for reducing risk
Besides screening, Dr. Dharia says you can help reduce your risk of colon cancer by:
- Eating a plant-based, high-fiber diet.
- Not smoking.
- Exercising for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
For your convenience, colonoscopies are performed on an outpatient basis at Kelsey-Seybold’s Berthelsen Main Campus and Spring Medical and Diagnostic Center in Kelsey-Seybold’s accredited Ambulatory Surgery Center. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Dharia or another Kelsey-Seybold gastroenterologist, call 713-442-0000.