Colorectal Cancer and Colonoscopies

March is Colorectal Awareness Month, and the Physicians of IMA would like to share some important information about the detection and prevention of colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Fortunately, it is also easily treatable if it is detected early enough. This means that getting colonoscopies on a doctor-recommended basis can be life-saving.

During a colonoscopy, doctors use a telescopic camera to examine the inside of your colon to look for polyps. A polyp is a small growth that can sometimes grow into cancerous tumors. Most polyps can be painlessly removed during the colonoscopy. The entire colonoscopy procedure usually takes about 45 minutes, and recovery can take as little as 30 minutes.

If you are between the ages of 50 and 75, it is recommended that you get a colonoscopy every 5 to 10 years. Doctors may also recommend a colonoscopy for younger patients with a family history of colorectal cancer or who exhibit other risk factors.

In addition to regular screenings, there are also lifestyle changes you can make in order to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer. Exercising regularly and eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in red meats and fatty foods can make a significant difference. Additionally, reducing your alcohol intake and stopping smoking can reduce your risk for many types of cancer, including colorectal cancer.

One alternative to a colonoscopy is a home stool test known as Cologuard. This is a kit that allows you to mail in a stool sample where it will be tested for DNA mutations that may indicate cancerous growths. While it is much more convenient, studies have shown that these kits are not quite as accurate. There is a much larger chance of a false positive, meaning your results may show a positive result, even if cancer is not actually present. Certain types of polyps are not detectable with Cologuard, so while it is better than no test at all, it is not as comprehensive a screening as a full colonoscopy.

Your IMA Physician and Nurse Practitioner will be happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have about colorectal cancer. Patients can call their IMA Primary Care office or message their IMA Practitioner via the IMA Patient Portal