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National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Written by Grace Shih, MD and Patrick Wagner, MD.

Education

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the SECOND leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, effecting both men and women equally. Yet, few Americans know that CRC can be both prevented and detected by a colonoscopy. For example, only 1 in 3 Medicare beneficiaries get screened. CRCs start as precancerous growths called polyps in the colon. A colonoscopy can detect those polyps and remove them! This leads to prevention of colorectal cancer. A colonoscopy can also detect cancer too, but the hope is to remove the polyp before that happens.

Prevention – Get Screened

Screening should start for most Americans at age 50 but may be earlier if there is a family history of CRC/polyps or a personal history of certain conditions like inflammatory bowel disease. The American College of Gastroenterology also recommends African Americans start at age 45 because they are more likely to be diagnosed with CRC at a young age. In addition, there has been an alarming trend of increasing colorectal cancers in Americans younger than 50 years of age!

There has been a lot of advertisement regarding alternative tests for screening. These tests such as the fecal DNA test (e.g. Cologuard®) and fecal blood tests are NOT preventative. Because they only detect polyps and cancer with a lower sensitivity, these tests should be offered only if a colonoscopy cannot be done. The preferred preventative test is the colonoscopy every 10 years.

Advanced Treatments – Robotic Surgery

Surgery remains the primary treatment modality for most patients with cancer of the colon or rectum. Robotic surgery is being used increasingly in the United States for treatment of colorectal cancer. The advantages of robotic surgery include enhancements in surgical visualization (3-D) and dexterity (wristed motion), and it is hoped that these innovations will contribute to improvements in surgical safety and optimal cancer-related outcomes. Surgeons at the Valley Health Cancer Center began performing robotic surgery in 2016 and have, to date, completed more than 60 robotic colorectal operations. While not all patients are candidates for robotic surgery, the advanced technology may expand the number of patients eligible for a minimally invasive operation for colorectal cancer.

Patrick Wagner, MD, Valley Health Surgical Oncology, has extensive experience in minimally invasive and robotic cancer surgery, complex gastrointestinal surgery, and management of advanced cancers using regional therapeutic techniques. He completed training in cancer surgery and pathology at Weill-Cornell Medical Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and received his MD from Harvard Medical School.

Grace Shih, MD is a gastroenterologist with Winchester Gastroenterology Associates.