Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer and the number one non-tobacco-related cancer killer in the United States. Even so, only one-third of Americans older than 50 has been screened for colon cancer. Any adult can have colon cancer, so it is important to know your risk factors and be screened at the right time. Since March is Colon Cancer Awareness month, we spoke with Dr. Michael Hurtuk, Colorectal Surgeon at Little Company of Mary. Check out five Q and A’s below to learn more about potential risk factors, who should be screened and how often, signs and symptoms and available colon cancer treatments.
What are risk factors for colon cancer?
The strongest risk factors are:
- A personal history of colon cancer (once you have one colon cancer, you’re at risk for reoccurrence)
- A history of polyps
- A family history of colon cancer
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Tobacco use
- Lack of physical activity
- A history of inflammatory bowel disease
There are some links to various aspects of your diet, such as fat or red meat, but the data is all over the place on these (too much so), so it is difficult to make a recommendation.
Who should be screened for colon cancer, and how often?
People at average risk should start having colonoscopies at age 50 and, depending on their colonoscopy results or their risks, they may need more frequent colonoscopies afterward. People at increased risk may require a colonoscopy as early as puberty. I usually tailor my recommendations to individual patients and their risk factors. For instance, in a patient with a mother who had colon cancer at age 40, I would recommend a colonoscopy at age 30. The answer to this question may actually fill a book and should be tailored for the individual patient.
Which screenings are available at Little Company of Mary?
If physicians suspect a problem with your colon, a few screenings that might be performed are:
- Fecal occult blood to look for blood in the stool
- Contrast enemas
For me, if I suspected a problem, I would start with colonoscopy. Also available at Little Company of Mary are:
- Anoscopy. With this screening, I’m able to see inside the anal canal for any growths or hemorrhoids. Typically, I will perform this for anyone with complaints of bright red blood per rectum.
- Anal pap smears. This allows for detection of HPV around the anal canal. HPV can cause cancer in the anus and it is important to be screened for high risk variants of the HPV virus. Those who should be screened are those who participate in anal sex and those with a history of genital or anal warts, otherwise known as anal condyloma.
What are signs or symptoms of colon cancer?
Signs and symptoms of something going on can be subtle, from feeling full early or feeling bloated after hardly eating, to losing a few pounds here and there without trying, to the more obvious: blood in the stool, abdominal pain or change in the appearance of stool. If any of these symptoms should arise, you probably should see your primary care physician immediately. He or she will be able to sort through the normal and abnormal problems and refer you to someone who will be able to get the ball rolling on a treatment.
What treatments are available at Little Company of Mary?
For colon cancer, the mainstay of treatment is surgical. In a surgically fit patient, the tumor, its blood supply and its lymph nodes are removed. Reconstruction, or reconnection of the colon, depends on a host of factors ranging from location of the tumor, patient’s overall health and well being, to even personal preference. With this being said, there are some special circumstances in which a very superficial tumor can be removed endoscopically.
Dr. Hurtuk hosted a special colon awareness seminar on March 10th. Below is an informational 1-2 min video that shed light to colon cancer.