Colorectal Cancer: Symptoms, screening and prevention

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In both men and women, colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death with more than 200,000 cases in the U.S. each year. Yet, it is a form of cancer that is majorly preventable and easily detected early through the use of colonoscopy. Colonoscopies are the gold standard of screening methods for colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer occurs in men and women equally, therefore, it is recommended for everyone to begin getting colonoscopies at the age of 50, unless there is a family history of the disease.

It is recommended to get colonoscopies every 10 years after the age of 50 unless polyps are found—which you are then recommended to get a colonoscopy every 3-5 years.  For individuals with a family history of colon cancer, it may be recommended to begin getting colonoscopies before the age of 50, and continue to get them every five years.

Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer include rectal bleeding, substantial change in bowel habits, unexplained abdominal pain and/or unusual weight loss. Symptoms of colorectal cancer often do not occur until the late stages of the disease, when treatment and curing it can prove much more difficult. The risk for developing colorectal cancer increases with age, family history of the disease, obesity, use of alcohol, and smoking, but many cases of colorectal cancer are spontaneous. The late presenting symptoms and spontaneity of the disease also emphasizes the importance of getting screened through the use of colonoscopy.

Prime years of which colon cancer usually develops is between the ages of 50-80.

Through the use of colonoscopy, gastroenterologists can not only detect and diagnose malignancies in the colon, but they can also detect and remove possibly pre-cancerous polyps lining the colon —significantly decreasing the risk of developing colorectal cancer.  Despite common belief, colonoscopies are painless procedures in which the patient is properly sedated and gastroenterologists are actually able to remove any polyps discovered during the colonoscopy procedure as well.

Cone Health has an exceptional network of primary care physicians and gastroenterologists who are dedicated to educating the community about the importance of colorectal cancer screening and making sure they get colonoscopies within the recommended time frame.

Spokesperson Background:

Dr. Alicia Thomas is a surgeon at Central Carolina Surgery and a member of the Cone Health medical staff. Dr. Thomas is a 2006 graduate of The University of North Carolina School of Medicine. She completed her general surgery residency at The Ohio State University Department of General Surgery and completed a fellowship in colon and rectal surgery at Grant Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. Dr. Thomas is board certified in general, colon, and rectal surgery.