Colorectal cancer is preventable
Fast detection proves to be primary factor
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By George Malkemus  March 7, 2014 12:00 am

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.  Colorectal cancer is one of the most easily prevented cancers if discovered early through a colonoscopy.

I can speak personally to the importance of being tested for colorectal cancer.  It has been nine years since I was found to have colorectal cancer. In 2005, the cancer was detected during a colonoscopy.   I am doing great with no reoccurrence after undergoing chemotherapy, radiation and surgery in 2005 and 2006.  I am very lucky and happy to be alive.

Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Each year, there are about 50,000 deaths from colorectal cancer and about 150,000 new cases detected. The lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 5 percent, 1 in 20. The risk is slightly higher in men than women. Younger adults can develop colorectal cancer, but the chances increase dramatically after age 50; about 9 out of 10 people diagnosed with colorectal cancer are over 50 years old.

The colorectal cancer develops from polyps that can be easily removed at the pre-cancerous stage if they are detected early with a colonoscopy. Colon polyps are fleshy growths or bumps that occur on the inside lining of the colon.  Polyps in the colon are extremely common.  Polyps are found in more than 50 percent of the people undergoing a colonoscopy.  Polyps are slow growing and easily removed during the colonoscopy procedure.

I could have avoided my stressful, involved treatment if I had been tested earlier.  Since the original diagnosis, I have had eight weeks of radiation and chemotherapy, two colorectal surgeries, 10 colonoscopies, and eight PET scans.  I should have been checked at age 50, but I put it off to age 55, since I figured that I was in such good health that it couldn’t happen to me.

In the last few years, death rates from colorectal cancer are down, partly because of improved treatments but mostly from early detection. The crusade to increase awareness of the importance of testing has had a major impact in reducing colorectal cancer through early detection.   There is a more than 90 percent cure rate when colorectal cancer is detected early.

However, sadly, only a small percentage of the people who would benefit from a colorectal screening proceed with the testing. There are several weak reasons people don't get the colorectal screenings. People say they are inconvenient, that the preparation prior to the test can be unpleasant, and many simply don't understand the importance of regular colon screenings. The fact remains; regular colorectal screening for both men and women is the best way to monitor colon health and to catch any problems early.

After initially being reluctant to the procedure, I have not found the colonoscopy uncomfortable, and I have had the procedure 10 times. A colonoscopy entails taking a video of the rectum and colon in order to look for abnormalities and polyps. It is actually interesting for me to look at my insides on screen.  The video is somewhat similar to the video camera that I use for dental examinations in the office, letting the patient look at their mouth and being involved in treatment decisions.  The worst part for me is the drinking of the preparation to clean oneself out, but that is a small price to pay for avoiding colon cancer.

Two-thirds of the people who get colon cancer have no family history of the disease.  In my case, no one in my family history had colon cancer.  If you have a parent, brother, sister, or child who has had colon cancer, then early testing is even more important for you.  I encourage everyone to get a colonoscopy by age 50.

Colon cancer is a silent killer; it can be growing for many years with no symptoms. At age 55, my cancer was detected at an advanced stage, just three months after minor symptoms began. I was in great health when I was diagnosed; it was quite a shock. 

My cancer had been there for more than two years.  If detected early, colon cancer is easy to successfully treat.  If you wait like I did, treatment becomes much more involved, the results are much less predictable, and the survival rates are much reduced.  I am one of the lucky ones to have survived.

Prevention of cancer

Obesity, lack of exercise, heavy alcohol use and smoking are associated with colorectal cancer.  Diet that is high in red meat is also associated with polyp formation and colorectal cancer. Lifestyle modifications, including reducing red meat and dietary fat, increasing fiber, ensuring adequate vitamin intake, losing weight and regular exercise, can reduce the risk of cancer.  Fiber plays a protective role in the colon by adding bulk and easing the passage of the stool.  This keeps the waste moving through the colon and passes toxins through the body.  A diet with at least 10 grams of fiber per day is recommended with an ideal goal of 25 to 35 grams per day.

Living a healthy life reduces the statistical chance of getting colon cancer, but it can still occur.  I did not have any cancer risk factors, and yet I got colon cancer.  

I don’t smoke, I am not obese, I eat healthy, I drink in moderation and I exercise daily.  So early detection is necessary for everyone.

If you haven't had a colon screening or feel you are due to have one, talk to your doctor and get yours scheduled today. It may save your life.  I know it saved mine.

Enjoy life and keep smiling.

 

George Malkemus has a Family and Cosmetic Dental Practice in Rohnert Park at 2 Padre Parkway, Suite 200. Call 585-8595, or email info@ malkemusdds.com.  Visit Dr. Malkemus’ Web site at www.malkemusdds.com.

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