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Sage advice: Get screened for colorectal cancer

September 25, 2019
Sage advice: Get screened for colorectal cancer

By Ross Sage, MD

Last year, the American Cancer Society (ACS) updated its guidelines for colorectal cancer screening. Through studying recent trends in cancer rates, the ACS learned that colorectal cancer is being found in younger and younger patients. Now, the ACS recommends colorectal cancer screening for an average-risk person take place every 10 years, beginning at age 45, rather than the previous age of 50.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Since screening helps catch the beginning stages of colorectal cancer, it lowers your risk of dying from the disease because this type of cancer can be treated, or prevented, if signs are found early.

There are multiple screening options out there, but the best, most comprehensive, option for any age remains the colonoscopy.

Colonoscopies allow a doctor to see the entire colon and more easily detect polyps, which are extra tissue growths inside your body, pictured in the model above. Polyps themselves are not cancerous, but some can become cancerous over time if they aren’t discovered and removed. About 4 in 10 men, and 1 in 4 women, develop polyps. If your health care provider finds any polyps during a screening, he or she may remove them via a procedure called a polypectomy.

Some patients are wary of colonoscopies for various reasons including anticipation of pain, sedation or perceived embarrassment. However, colonoscopies are very low-risk and virtually painless, and the sedation allows you to sleep through the entire procedure.

In the hands of an experienced endoscopist, the benefits of colonoscopies greatly outweigh the very small chance of risks. The hardest part about the procedure is the preparation – restricting your diet and drinking a strong laxative.

In recent years, alternative screenings to colonoscopies have been offered. However, alternatives may only be beneficial to those patients without increased risk of colorectal cancer, and those that don’t have colorectal cancer in their family. There are pros and cons to each screening method, so it is always recommended to weigh each alternative with your provider before choosing, to ensure you’re picking the best option for your situation. To view a chart of available screening options, click here.

To schedule a colorectal cancer screening, talk to your primary physician or call the Allina Health Shakopee clinic at 952-428-3535.

Learn more about gastroenterology services at St. Francis here.

Ross Sage is a board-certified gastroenterologist at St. Francis Regional Medical Center and Allina Health’s Shakopee clinic. His professional interests include general gastroenterology, inflammatory bowel disease, pancreaticbiliary disorder, performing advanced endoscopic procedures for stone and pancreatic disease, endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR), endoscopy, EGD and colonoscopy.