Doctors push for colon cancer awareness

Published 7:51 pm Thursday, March 17, 2016

It’s one of those tough topics of discussion.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, affecting men and women equally, but it doesn’t have to be this way, according to Dr. Thomas Ruffolo.

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, and local physicians are jumping on board to help spread the word and encourage people to talk about the issues.

“Colon Cancer Awareness is a national effort to promote to the population about the need for colon cancer screening,” said Ruffolo, who has specialized in gastroenterology for more than 20 years. “The majority of cancers (roughly 70 percent) occur sporadically and are not associated with a family history. … Those people, they don’t have any risk factor besides having a colon.”

Ruffolo said colon cancer is usually easier to treat, but because it’s been a notoriously off-limits topic in the past, the cancer is often not found until the later stages.

“People didn’t ask about it, and they were too afraid,” he said. “We’re now really pushing the early detection and actually trying to find the precancerous legions before they have a chance to become cancerous.”

Contrary to popular belief, screenings for colon cancer (oftentimes a colonoscopy) should not be feared, according to Ruffolo. He said the prepping part of a colonoscopy is very manageable for most patients, and during the actual procedure, a patient is sedated to avoid any discomfort. There is also very little risk involved.

“The biggest hindrance to getting people to come in for screening is the unknown,” Ruffolo said. “They’d rather just ignore and take their chances.”

Ruffolo said he has seen many patients come in with late-stage colon cancer, saying they just didn’t want the hassle of a colonoscopy. But if it had been detected early, the treatment would not be as severe, and in some cases, a patient would still be living.

“Technically, we should be able to prevent about 95 percent (of cases),” he said. “We should not be dealing with colon cancer. We should be dealing with colon polyps.”

Among the symptoms of colon cancer are: changes in bowel habits; blood in the stool; bloating and fullness; frequent gas pains; unexplained weight loss; continued fatigue; and unexplained anemia, according to Ruffolo.

The Marion L. Shepard Cancer Center organized two events in March, giving residents information about the signs of colon cancer, including a “Knowledge is Power” event on March 15 in Washington, as well as its sister event on Tuesday at the Wilkinson Center in Belhaven.

“The biggest thing is just awareness, that it is a preventable disease,” Ruffolo said.

The Marion L. Shepard Cancer Center’s last “Knowledge is Power” information session will be March 22 at 5:30 p.m. at the Wilkinson Center, 144 W. Main St., Belhaven. For more information, call 252-975-4308.