March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. To raise awareness for colorectal cancer, the St. Lawrence Health Initiative started “The North Country Goes Blue Photo Contest.” Through this contest, this non-profit organization hopes to increase colorectal cancer screening to at least 80 percent in all St. Lawrence County communities. MMH supported the effort by holding a “Wear Blue Day” on March 19, 2019. MMH also posted colorectal cancer fact sheets on their social media pages and hung posters throughout the hospital.
Cancer that occurs in a person’s colon or rectum is called colorectal cancer or colon cancer. This type of cancer is commonly found in adults 50 years and older and is the second leading cause of all cancer-related deaths. To protect patients from developing colorectal cancer, Dr. Luis Canales, MD, Gastroenterologist, is a part of MMH’s Endoscopy team. He is Board-Certified and offers colorectal cancer screening, among many other services.
According to Dr. Canales, “Even though colorectal cancer leads to numerous deaths each year, this type of cancer is preventable. This is why it is so important for people to reduce their chances of developing this type of cancer by being screened regularly.” Some guidelines recommend screening for anyone over 50 years of age or that has a personal or family history of colorectal cancer, polyps, or inflammatory bowel disease; however, the American Cancer Society recently issued new guidelines because of a drastic increase in colorectal cancers cases among adults under 55 years of age. The American Cancer Society now suggests screening at the age of 45 or possibly even earlier for at-risk individuals.
Colorectal cancer screening helps providers find and remove polyps. Polyps are abnormal growths found on the lining of a person’s rectum or colon, and they can be cancerous or noncancerous. However, polyps should not be ignored because it is possible they could turn into cancer over time. Furthermore, colorectal cancer screening allows providers to find this type of cancer when it is in its early stages and provide necessary treatment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that when colorectal cancer is found and treated during its early stages, 9 out of 10 patients are likely to be alive five years later.
There are a few different types of tests that your provider can perform to screen you for colorectal cancer. One of these types is a fecal occult blood test. During this test, the provider checks for blood in their patient’s stool since this can be a sign of colorectal cancer. The standard is for adults 45 and over to have a fecal occult blood test every one to three years. Another type of testing is the colonoscopy. When a provider performs a colonoscopy, they insert a scope into their patient’s rectum to check for polyps on the colon or rectum lining. If a polyp is found, the provider performs a biopsy, which involves taking a sample of the polyp and sending it to the laboratory for testing to determine whether or not the mass is cancerous. Colonoscopies are generally performed once every 5 to 10 years. However, a provider might suggest that a patient have this test done more frequently if they are at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.
In addition to having blood in their stool, patients with colorectal cancer might experience nausea, vomiting, belly pain, bloating, cramps, gas, diarrhea, constipation, changes in their stool, and unexpected weight loss. A person might also feel tired, weak, and as if their bowel or rectum will not completely empty. If you are over the age of 45, have a family history of colorectal cancer, or are experiencing these symptoms, you should contact your healthcare provider about being screened for colorectal cancer. Screenings, early detection, and treatment save lives.
Although colorectal cancer screening can be stressful or intimidating, MMH’s Endoscopy Unit is committed to providing all patients with a positive experience. Val Skomsky, RN, Director of Surgical Services and Endoscopy, said, “MMH’s Endoscopy Unit has 100 percent patient satisfaction; every patient that comes in leaves saying they are happy with the way their appointment went. Some patients have fear before their procedures, but they end up feeling that everything went smoothly when they leave. This is because MMH’s Endoscopy Unit has a great gastroenterologist, nurses and other staff members.”
For more information about colorectal cancer and screening, please visit the following websites from MMH’s health library: http://massenahospital.staywellsolutionsonline.com/Search/88,p10928, http://massenahospital.staywellsolutionsonline.com/MultimediaRoom/VideoLibrary/?e=0#player:138,v1051