Colon Cancer is No. 2 Cancer Killer in US: Screening Can Save Lives

colon cancer

ST. LOUIS - Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the U.S. But it is one cancer that can prevented with screening. Screening finds pre-cancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. It also finds colorectal cancer early, when treatment is most effective.

Key risk factors for colorectal cancer include age (generally over 50) and family history.

“No one should die of colon cancer in 2013! If you don’t know your family medical history, sit down and have the discussion before it’s too late,” said John Farrell, MD, division chief of gastroenterology with Mercy Hospital St. Louis. “If there’s a family history, you may need to be screened earlier than age 50.”

Other risk factors are inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and certain genetic syndromes, like familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (also known as Lynch Syndrome).

Unlike many other diseases or cancers, colorectal cancer often has no symptoms. A patient can look healthy and feel fine, not knowing there may be a problem. However, if you experience blood in or on your stool; stomach pain, aches or cramps that don’t go away; or unexplained weight loss see your doctor.

Screenings for colorectal cancer vary depending on risk factors and age. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advises people over 50 at average risk to be screened every five or ten years depending on the type of screening. Mercy doctors recommend a screening colonoscopy at age 50 and, if negative, every ten years thereafter.

For patients with a family history of polyps or cancer screening every five years starting at age 40 or 10 years prior to the age the family member developed colon cancer – whichever comes first.

“Patients should have no reason to fear colonoscopies,” Dr. Farrell said. “Preps are critical for a good exam and have improved immensely over the years with less volume needed and shorter time intervals of fasting. We have an answer for any objection to a colonoscopy that a patient may have.” 

Patients now drink a lower volume of the prep liquid than in the past, typically less than two quarts. The prep can also be administered in divided doses, called a “split prep,” to minimize the volume that must be consumed at any one time. Once the prep has been completed, the colonoscopy procedure itself tends to be very well tolerated because the anesthetic agents allow most patients to sleep comfortably through the exam.

Mercy Hospital St. Louis, part of Mercy’s east Missouri region, is a 979-bed comprehensive teaching hospital. The 80-acre site houses a nine-level heart and vascular hospital, a cancer center; a comprehensive children's hospital; a surgery center; and a 120-bed skilled nursing center.  

Mercy is the sixth largest Catholic health care system in the U.S. and serves more than 3 million people annually. Mercy includes 32 hospitals, 300 outpatient facilities, 38,000 co-workers and 1,900 integrated physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.  In Mercy’s east Missouri region, Mercy’s services include a 979-bed hospital in St. Louis, 187-bed hospital in Washington, 251-bed hospital in Crystal City and Mercy Clinic, a 570-member multispecialty physician organization.  

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