Health Check: How a colon cancer screening could save your life

WTAP News @ 10
Published: Mar. 22, 2022 at 12:04 AM EDT
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PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - March is known as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women.

“The reason for the screening is it not only catches the precancerous polyps earlier and prevents cancer. If it catches cancer very early, it is also curable,” said Dr. Bairava Kuppuswamy, primary care physician at WVU Medicine Camden Clark Medical Center.

Based on research done by the United States Preventative Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society, health officials have recommended the age of colon cancer screenings be lowered from the age of 50 to the age of 45.

“You know, there have been new studies they’ve done, and what they found out was there was an increased risk of colon cancer in a younger age group,” Dr. Kuppuswamy said. “Ninety percent of colon cancers are seen in 50 plus but the other 10 percent, they started seeing increasing numbers in a younger age group.”

The recommendation is important because that is what insurance companies follow so that they end up covering the colon cancer screening procedure.

Besides insurance and how much a screening would cost, some of the other main reasons people choose not to get screened are a lack of awareness, the hesitancy of the unknown, and the fear of prepping for a colonoscopy.

Dr. Mohamed Barakat, a gastroenterologist with WVU Medicine Camden Clark Medical Center, said a colonoscopy offers him a chance to remove polyps before they become cancers. He said polyps are described as abnormal growths throughout the colon that can either be pre-cancerous or non-cancerous.

“It {colonoscopy} also allows us to cure cancers while they’re early and still haven’t spread throughout the body,” Dr. Barakat said. “It is also a diagnostic tool, not just a screening tool that allows us to treat these early cancers without having to have surgery or any invasive procedure that may result in a surgical resection, which ultimately may be associated with higher morbidity and mortality on its own.”

Dr. Barakat said the prep work for a colonoscopy usually entails a clear liquid diet the day before, such as water or jello. Typically it is anything you can see through.

“The purpose is to clean out the colon, Dr. Barakat said. “It’s a cleanse so that the physician can see all the walls clearly and detect the smallest of polyps and not just the large ones.”

Francis Trickett waited until he was 55 to have his first colonoscopy in January 2018. After discovering the polyps in his colon, doctors removed them and sent them off to a lab. Trickett’s results came back positive for stage one colon cancer. In February 2018, Trickett came back to have surgery on his colon to remove the infected area. Trickett said they caught it at its most treatable stage.

“When you’re to the age that the doctor tells you that you need to do it, you need to go,” Trickett said. “I’m glad I went when I did cause I mean it could cost you your life if you don’t get one done, and I recommend it for anybody.”

Dr. Barakat said there is a big misconception about getting a colonoscopy.

“First of all, colonoscopy is a procedure. It is not a surgery; there is no incision, there’s no cutting or anything like that,” Dr. Barakat said. “It’s done under what we call monitored anesthesia, which is just an anesthetic, you can breathe on your own, you’re not completely sleeping, there’s no pain at all, and you go to sleep in a minute, and you wake up in a minute, and you’re on your way home. no pain involved and almost not side associated with it.”

To maintain good colon health, Dr. Kuppuswamy said there are some lifestyle changes you can make. First, eat more fruits and vegetables and have a high-fiber diet. He recommended limiting your consumption of red meat, processed meats, and other foods.

Other lifestyle changes you can make include losing weight, being more physically active, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol use.

Dr. Kuppuswamy says there are other alternative tests you can take, such as an at-home stool test. He recommends that a colonoscopy is the best screening method if any patient has any high-risk factors such as a family history of colon cancer or a previous history of having cancer.

Dr. Kuppuswamy also said to talk to your primary care physician if you are concerned about the price of the screening tests or whether or not your insurance is going to cover it. He said any screening test is better than not having one at all.

Since being cured of cancer, Trickett goes for a routine colonoscopy every year and checks in with an oncologist every six months.

“Just a 15-minute procedure can save your’s a no-brainer, you know it can be a matter of life or death it needs to be done,” Trickett said.

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