RiverView’s Dr. Mirza Baig says early screening is key

Cancer of the colon and rectum – called colorectal (colon) cancer – is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year about 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colon cancer, and more than 50,000 die from it. Yet statistics show that if everyone who is 50-years-old or older were screened regularly, as many as 60 percent of deaths from this cancer could be avoided. March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
    Colon cancer develops from non-cancer polyps called adenomatous polyps, according to RiverView Health Gastroenterologist Dr. Mirza Baig.  A polyp is a grape-like growth on the inside wall of the colon or rectum. Polyps grow slowly over three to ten years. Most people do not develop polyps until after the age of 50.
    “It is very common to find precancerous polyps,’’ Dr. Baig reported. “Some polyps become cancerous, others do not.  In order to prevent colon cancer, it is important to get screened to find out if you have polyps, and to have them removed if you do. Removal of polyps has been shown to prevent colon cancer.”

Age, family
history factors
    The risk of getting colon cancer increases with age. More than 90 percent of cases occur in people who are 50-years-old or older. And if you think you are safe from colon cancer because you are a woman, think again. Men and women are equally affected by colon cancer. In fact, colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in women. About 67,000 women are diagnosed with this cancer each year and more than 40 percent of them – 28,600 – die from the disease. So no matter your sex, if you are 50 or older, getting screened for colon cancer could save your life.
    Your doctor may advise you to get screened at an earlier age if you have a family history of colon cancer or adenomatous polyps or have a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s Disease. There are several inherited disorders that greatly increase your risk of colon cancer.
Other factors that increase your risk of developing colon cancer are having a diet that is low in fiber and high in fat, and having a sedentary life-style.

Screenings available
    Just because you do not have any symptoms may not mean you are in the clear for colon cancer. Precancerous polyps and colon cancer do not always cause symptoms, especially in the beginning. You could have polyps or colon cancer and not know it. That is why having a screening test is so important.
    Colonoscopies are the most common screening done by Dr. Baig and RiverView nurses Mary Bratrud and Heather Qualley. But a variety of other screenings are also available at RiverView Health, including digital rectal examinations, fecal occult blood tests, sigmoidoscopies and barium enemas.
    Some symptoms that may indicate colon cancer include:
    •    Rectal bleeding
    •    Blood in or on the stool (bowel movement)
    •    Stomach pain, aches, or cramps that do not go away
    •    Losing weight and you don’t know why
    •    Constant fatigue
    •    A change in bowel movements
    •    Discomfort in or the urge to move your bowels when there is no need
    If you have any of these symptoms, the only way to know what is causing them is to see your doctor.

Healthy living
goes a long way
While there is no way to completely eliminate the risk of developing colon cancer, there is evidence that you can reduce your chance of getting colon cancer by doing the following:
    •    Have a diet that is rich in fiber; eat plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables
    •    Eat cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts often
    •    Avoid foods that are high in fat, particularly saturated fat
    •    Eat foods that are high in calcium
    •    Exercise regularly