Regional One Health physicians can help patients prevent, detect and treat colorectal cancer thanks to exceptional primary care, screening and oncology services.
A routine colonoscopy can diagnose, prevent and treat colorectal cancer, and experts recommend that average-risk men and women have their first test at age 45.
Talk to your health care provider about your specific risk factors and screening needs, and get started on protecting your colorectal health!
Colorectal cancer is preventable, detectable, and treatable – and Regional One Health physicians can help patients with all three.
Medical oncologist Saurin Chokshi, MD and surgical oncologist Elizabeth Wood, MD say there are several steps to protecting your colorectal health.
“Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States, and the Mid-South has very high rates due to lifestyle factors like smoking, obesity, and poor access to health care,” Dr. Chokshi said.
“That speaks to the importance of screening and early diagnosis. Late stage cancer, which is the most difficult to treat, can be avoided with effective screening.”
Manage your risk
Dr. Wood said there are steps everyone can take to lower their risk of colorectal cancer.
Eat a well-balanced diet with a specific emphasis on fruits, vegetables and fiber. Aim for 25-35 grams of fiber each day from sources like leafy greens, beans and legumes.
Get regular exercise, and avoid excess alcohol and tobacco use. “Smoking is one of the biggest risk factors,” Dr. Wood said. “So if you smoke, try to quit.”
Pay attention to symptoms
Changes in your bowel habits are the main thing to watch for, Dr. Wood said.
Blood in the stool, including stool that looks dark or tarry, can be a red flag. Also ask your doctor about diarrhea, constipation, thin or oddly shaped stool, or unexplained fatigue or weight loss.
Know your screening needs
Dr. Chokshi said the American Cancer Society and American College of Gastroenterologists now recommend average-risk men and women get their first screening colonoscopy at age 45.
If you have heightened risk due to family or personal history of colorectal cancer, talk to your gastroenterologist or primary care provider about your screening needs.
“Traditionally, colorectal cancer has been more common in patients in their 50s or 60s. In the last 30 years, the number of cases in those age groups have plateaued or even declined slightly as awareness around screening and prevention improved,” Dr. Chokshi said. “However, colorectal cancer rates have been rising in patients in their 30s and 40s, which is why we’re testing earlier.”
Don’t fear the colonoscopy
There are less invasive screening tests for colorectal cancer that you can discuss with your provider, but colonoscopy is the best way to diagnose and in some cases prevent or treat cancer.
“A lot of patients have a stigma against colonoscopies. They’re afraid of the test and the prep,” Dr. Wood said. “But it truly is the gold standard, because it is diagnostic and therapeutic. We can find and remove polyps, which lets us prevent cancer or catch it early when it’s easier to treat.”
Patients do need to drink a prep solution to clear out their bowels ahead of their colonoscopy. Dr. Wood said there are lower-volume options, and mixing the product with flavored drink powder and keeping it very cold can make it more palatable.
As for the colonoscopy itself, you’re asleep for the entire 15-30 minute procedure. You return home shortly after the test and resume normal activities quickly. If nothing is found, you won’t need another colonoscopy for 10 years.
Seek expert care
If you are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, seeking treatment from specialists like Dr. Chokshi and Dr. Wood can lead to improved outcomes.
They start with blood work and a CT scan to determine the stage of the cancer and whether it has spread. “Localized cancer, which has not spread, has the best outcomes. It can often be cured through surgery alone,” Dr. Chokshi said. “If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, patients will likely need surgery and chemotherapy.”
Stage 4 cancer that has spread beyond the lymph nodes, often to the liver or lungs, is the hardest to treat. However, new treatments can extend a patient’s life and improve their quality of life.
Continue with surveillance
Patients whose colorectal cancer is cured should be vigilant about continued screening.
Dr. Wood said the disease is most likely to recur in the first two years, so doctors follow patients closely during that time-frame. Patients who survive colorectal cancer should have more frequent colonoscopies throughout their lifetime.
Regional One Health offers comprehensives services to help patients prevent, detect and treat colorectal cancer.