Orange County Mayor Demings joined AdventHealth to declare March 1 as Dress in Blue Day to raise awareness for colorectal cancer. Dress in Blue Day is officially observed on March 1, but supporters can go blue any day in March to bring awareness to the fight to end colorectal cancer, show support for the cause and raise money. Dr. Ilan Aharoni, MD, an AdventHealth gastroenterologist says that by wearing blue and raising funds, you can not only help bring awareness to this common disease, but you can show your support for people in your life who may have been affected by it as well.
The Difference Between Colon and Rectal Cancers
According to Dr. Aharoni, “They’re both very similar but rectal cancer is in the rectum, which is the lower part of the colon.” The main difference between the two types of cancer is in how each are treated. Because of the location that it’s in, surgical techniques differ for removing any polyps or affected tissue. “Rectal cancer also responds to radiation as well, but colon cancer would not qualify for radiation therapy,” says Dr. Aharoni.
Signs and Symptoms
According to Dr. Aharoni, “Colorectal cancer can have signs, but it can also present with absolutely no symptoms or signs — that’s why screening is so important. But things to look out for include changes in bowel habits, abdominal pain, blood in the stool and unexplained weight loss.” All of those signs are potentially symptoms, but they can also point to a variety of other conditions. That’s why it’s important to rely on screenings to help diagnose it.
One myth about colorectal cancer is that only older men get the disease. “That is completely inaccurate,” stresses Dr. Aharoni. “There are many myths that have evolved over time. Another common one is that colon cancer is seen mostly seen in the left side or lower part of the colon, and that you can get away with a partial colonoscopy,” he says. “Colon cancer is more common as you get older, but it’s also common in younger age ranges, and there’s emerging evidence that it’s actually rising quite rapidly in people under 50.” The guidelines are there for a reason, and by starting at age 50 most people will be able to preventatively catch lesions early and prevent colon cancer. Dr. Aharoni continues, “There is a slight predominance towards men getting colorectal cancer versus women, but we certainly cannot rely on the risk only applying to older men.”
Why It’s on the Rise
Dr. Aharoni says “We don’t have a great answer for that yet, but there are a lot of theories. It’s on the rise for younger people, but on the decline in older people who are of screening age. But in younger people who haven’t yet been screened, we think it could be related to dietary factors, obesity and alcohol. All of those things are being studied, but there’s not yet a definitive answer.” Because of that rise in younger people, the American Cancer Society reduced their screening age to 45. That’s not an across- the-board recommendation yet, but because of those findings, the medical community is starting to see the value of making that recommendation.
The Importance of Being Screened
Colon cancer is extremely common and can be deadly, but it can also be very preventable. Dr. Aharoni says “It can have a variety of symptoms or no symptoms at all, so focusing on regular screening helps us prevent future colon cancer by finding the precursors like polyps.” There’s a lot of evidence suggesting that people who get their colonoscopies as recommended have declining rates of colon cancer.
Everyone age 50 or over should be offered a colonoscopy as a screening tool, and it should be offered at least every 10 years, if they’re normal. There are some situations where it’s appropriate to do it earlier or more often, depending on family history, other risk factors or finding the polyps on prior colonoscopies. African Americans can start a little sooner and other family history risk factors can influence starting screenings earlier as well.
How Treatable or Beatable Is It?
The ideal situation is to prevent colon cancer. That’s where screening comes in, with regular health checks from your doctor. It’s extremely preventable, and if you can diagnose it at an early stage, it’s also very treatable. It has a very good prognosis when caught in early stages. Of course, the ideal situation is to prevent colorectal cancer outright, which is done with a colonoscopy.
Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer
According to Dr. Aharoni, “Major risk factors include age, genetics and family history. Other things that play a role are diet, lifestyle, obesity, BMI, alcohol intake and smoking, but the strongest predictors will still be age and genetics overall.”
What to Expect in the Screening Process
“Our colonoscopy screening is a very safe, low-risk, usually tolerable test,” says Dr. Aharoni. “It’s done under anesthesia so there’s no pain or discomfort involved. The test might take 20–30 minutes to do. The most difficult part about the whole thing is the preparation that starts the day before, but many people are familiar with that process.”
Toprepare for a colonoscopy, the patient will take a medicine to help them clean their bowels. Dr. Aharoni says, “The patient is fasting for the procedure and are put under anesthesia so they’re asleep in a moderate sedation for about 20 or 30 minutes, then all the work happens at the same time. Polyps are removed and biopsied in the same sitting. Then there’s maybe 20- to 30-minute recovery period and the patient is back to work the next day.”
Because it’s biopsied on the spot, the turnaround for biopsy results in most locations will be a couple of days. Final results of the biopsy can be sent to either the primary physician or your gastroenterologist, and sometimes results are even released on the patient portal.
Talk with your doctor about whether a colonoscopy is right for you, and remember to dress in blue this March to show your support. If you have questions, call Call855-303-3627 or visit GetScreenedToday.com.