By Natalie Conrad
Herald Staff Writer
More than 1,600 Iowans were diagnosed with colon cancer in 2012 and an estimated 580 people will die from the disease, many of which could have been prevented by getting a simple screening, according to the American Cancer Society.
Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death for men and women, yet it is preventable, treatable and beatable.
Mercy Medical Specialty Clinic staff stressed the importance of the disease at a special awareness event Friday.
“It’s not only the most treatable, but also the most cureable,” Dr. Mohammed Irshad said. “There really is an advantage to catching it early.”
It can be prevented by finding and removing polyps before they become cancerous and is highly treatable if found in its early stages. About half of all colon cancer deaths in the U.S. could be prevented if everyone age 50 and older was screened, according to the American Cancer Society.
When colorectal cancers are detected at an early, localized stage, the five-year survival is 90 percent; however, only 39 percent of colorectal cancers are diagnosed at this stage, in part due to the underuse of screening. Often people forgo the procedure due to fear or uncertainity, but Mercy staff ensures a comfortable atmosphere despite the unpleasant connotations.
“I get to know people inside and out,” LPN Jodi French said. “We do whatever we can to make our patients feel comfortable.”
Getting a colonoscopy can be frightening, but patients have nothing to worry about, according to French. While bowel preps scare many people away, they have developed more appealing alternatives using gatorade or a mix of different options. Patients can expect to spend three to four hours at the clinic the day of the procedure, but the actual procedure takes about 30 to 45 minutes.
There are no true symptoms for colon cancer at the beginning, which is why early screenings are important. Symptoms typically start after a patient has waited too long to get screened, according to French. These symptoms include abdominal pains, bloating and rectal bleeding.
Everyone should get regular screenings once you reach 50, but those with direct family history of the cancer must use extra caution. If parents or siblings have had colorectal cancer, they should get screened 10 years prior to the family member’s diagnosis. African-Americans should get screened when they are 45.
There is no better way to prevent not only colorectal cancer, but many other types of cancer, according to Irshad. Only 5 percent of polyps cause cancer, but 95 percent of all cancers arise from polyps.
Of all the types of cancer screenings, colorectal may be the most important.
“Many men and women are very conscious of getting cancer screenings, but are cautious about getting a colonoscopy,” Irshad said. “Getting a colorectal screening is really the most bang for your buck. These lesions can lead to many other cases of cancer.”
Hope is in sight, thanks to clinics like Mercy and the American Cancer Society, who are making progress against colon cancer and saving lives. Recent progress includes improvements in early detection and treatment, colon cancer death rates for men and women have declined more than 30 percent during the past two decades, and more than a million people in the U.S. count themselves as survivors. Colon cancer is one of only two cancers (the other is cervical cancer) that can be prevented through screening.
There are steps you can take every day to stay well and reduce your risk of colon cancer long before age 50. Maintaining a healthy weight by being physically active and eating a well-balanced diet, rich in fiber, has been proven to help reduce the risk. Abstaining from tobacco use is also a crucial aid in fighting nearly every type of cancer.
To learn more about colon cancer testing and how to talk about it with your doctor, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-ACS-2345 for free information, or visit www.cancer.org/colon. To set up a screening at the Mercy Specialty Clinic, call 244-5555.