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Colorectal Cancer:
What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

By Amy Bentz
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Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests

Four screening tests are widely used to screen for
colorectal cancer:

Fecal occult blood test. This test looks for the
presence of occult (hidden) blood in the stool. It’s an easy, early screening test that can be done at home
with an over-the-counter kit.

Colonoscopy. A colonoscopy examines the entire colon and detects more than 90 percent of cancerous growths in the colon. It is the most effective screening device for colorectal cancer, but it is also the most expensive because the procedure involves outpatient surgery under sedation.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy. This is similar to a colonoscopy but examines only the lining of the rectum and the lower part of the colon. This outpatient procedure is often performed in the physician’s office.

Barium enema. This procedure is offered as an alternative to flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. Rather than using a scope to detect polyps, a contrast enema and X-ray of the colon is used to screen for polyps.


learn more. For more information about colorectal cancer screenings and prevention, call the Mercy Gastroenterology Clinic at (515) 223.4823 or visit




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More than 150,000 new cases of colorectal cancer
are diagnosed each year in the United States. With Approximately 50,000 deaths per year, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths for both men and women.

Colorectal cancer is a cancer that starts in the colon or rectum. If discovered early, colorectal cancer is curable in more than 90 percent of cases. Unfortunately this slow-growing cancer often has no symptoms to alert victims to its presence,
especially during early stages, when treatment would be most effective. Colonoscopy is the most recognized form of screening for colorectal cancer and is considered the gold standard by physician experts.

“A colonoscopy is one of the best screening methods because it is both diagnostic and therapeutic,” says Bernard Feldman, D.O., FACG, Mercy Gastroenterology Clinic. Colonoscopies allow physicians to carefully examine inside the rectum and the full length of the colon, as well as remove polyps and take tissue samples of any suspicious areas. “If a polyp is found, 95 percent of the time it can be removed during the procedure,” he says. “Studies show removing a polyp that has malignant potential can prevent a person from ever getting colon cancer.”
Even if cancer is present, colonoscopies offer benefits. “If a colonoscopy picks up cancer prior to when a person experiences symptoms, it will likely be at an earlier stage, when it is more easily treated,” Dr. Feldman says. “If you are average risk and your colon is free of polyps following a complete colonoscopy, it is usually safe to wait 10 years for a follow-up exam.”

Fear and embarrassment are some of the reasons
people hesitate to undergo colon screenings. “A lot of
people remember hearing their grandparents’ stories of their colonoscopies—drinking gallons of fluid and experiencing long recoveries,” says Dr. Feldman. “Today’s technology makes screenings comfortable and very dignified for the patient.”
Patients typically prep for a screening by emptying their colon using fluids during two separate sessions, and most are able to complete the outpatient test in about two hours. Patients can often choose the level of sedation they prefer.

Current recommendations suggest being screened for
colorectal cancer starting at age 50. Patients who have a strong family history or are African American should be screened even earlier—by age 45—due to their higher incidence of
colorectal cancer. Regardless of your age, symptoms such as changes in bowel frequency or consistency; visible blood in
the stool; pain or discomfort during bowel movements; or
frequent gas pain, cramps, or bloating should be evaluated by your physician.

“Getting screened is the best form of prevention,” Dr. Feldman says. “By the time there is blood in the stool or other symptoms, colorectal cancer is usually at a more advanced stage and the success of treatment is lower. Colorectal cancer is most curable when it is found before it causes symptoms.
“We can treat this disease. We can prevent this disease,” Dr. Feldman continues. “Schedule an appointment with
your personal physician to talk about which colorectal cancer screening tests are appropriate for you. Routine screenings often detect this disease when it is most curable.”




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