Help catch a killer!

Published 12:26 am Sunday, March 13, 2011

There is a killer among us. It prematurely took nearly 50,000 American lives last year.

It remains a menace but with your help we can stop it.

So ask yourself, wouldn’t you want to help yourself or your family escape the hands of a “killer”?

I’m sure you would. Read on to learn how.

Each March we celebrate Colon Cancer Awareness Month. This is a time set aside to bring home the message that colon and rectal cancer doesn’t have to be a killer. In fact, colon and rectal cancer is largely preventable and curable with early detection and treatment. This is why several GI societies use as our motto the saying: “Colon cancer: Preventable, Treatable, Beatable.”

Colon cancer will be found in over 140,000 Americans this year. Most of these would have been preventable with early detection. Using tests such as colonoscopy precancerous colon polyps can be identified and removed and cancerous lesions found at an early stage. This helps to facilitate therapy and improves treatment outcomes.

As a result, colon cancer deaths have dropped over 5 percent during the past 10 years. The major reasons for this decline are screening efforts and removal of colon polyps before they can become cancerous.

So why isn’t everyone getting screened? It’s obvious that screening is vitally important.

We can only assume that people are either afraid, misinformed or too shy to discuss this life-saving procedure. To dispel some common concerns and misinformation I would like to mention a few myths about colon cancer screening.

Myth 1: This is a man’s disease. False. Men and women are equally likely to develop colon cancer, particularly after age 50.

Myth 2: The preparation and procedure are uncomfortable. False. The preparations used today for colon preparation are better tolerated than in the past. The procedure itself is facilitated by use of gentle sedatives to keep the patient comfortable or in a light sleep. The typical discomfort experienced during a colon exam is usually nothing more than a sensation of having abdominal “gas.”

Myth 3: Screening is only for individuals with symptoms. False. Screening is ideally performed in the absence of any symptoms. Waiting for symptoms to develop may be too late.

Myth 4: There is no treatment for colon cancer so why bother looking for it. False. If a polyp or cancer cannot be removed at the time of colonoscopy, surgery and sometimes chemotherapy or radiation therapy is used to treat the disease. The results of therapy is such that many patients continue to lead full productive lives.

Myth 5: Screening is not necessary if you don’t have a family history of colon cancer. False. While colon cancer tends to run in families, the majority of cancers occur “sporadically” in individuals with no family history of the disease.

Myth 6: My insurance won’t cover a screening exam. False. Most all insurance companies provide coverage for colon cancer screening. (Talk to your insurance company directly to learn about any deductibles or co-pays you might be responsible for.)

Myth 7: Any other excuse. All False. There is no excuse not to get screened.

Let me close by saying it’s time to stop procrastinating. The message is clear.

Colon cancer is Preventable, Treatable and Beatable.

If you have more questions or want to learn more about your colon cancer risks visit or discuss this with your health care provider.

Dr. Thomas Ruffolo is a specialist in gastroenterology and endoscopy with Coastal GI in Washington, NC.