CINCINNATI—If there was a way to determine that an area of the breast would become malignant in years to come and could be removed at the time of a mammogram, without leaving a scar or without the patient feeling pain, it would be considered breakthrough treatment for breast cancer.
Donald Schoch, MD, says this sort of screening does exist for colon cancer, but many are too embarrassed or don’t want to go through the burden of having it done.
"But it’s more than just screening,” he says. "It’s prevention.”
With Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month being observed in March, Schoch, a UC Health digestive diseases expert, says it’s important for people to realize how truly beneficial colonoscopies are.
"About one in 20 people develop colon cancer in their lifetime,” he says. "Colonoscopy gives physicians the ability to remove lesions that might become cancer later. The exciting aspect of this is that the natural history of colon cancer is well understood, and it can take years for small polyps to become cancerous. By removing them, cancers may be prevented.”
Schoch adds that screening may not only save your life but also could help your relatives, because—as is the case with most cancers—there is a genetic component.
"A benefit of colonoscopy is if cancerous or even non-cancerous polyps are detected, your family members can be made aware of their own risks for developing polyps or cancer.”
He also says that while colonoscopies are somewhat invasive, they are the most effective screening test in discovering colon cancer.
"There are other things to do for screening, such as checking stool samples for blood or even virtual colonoscopies,” he says. "While these can both be beneficial, the stool test can miss some cancers and can come back positive for reasons other than cancer; virtual colonoscopies are effective, but if polyps are found, physicians will still have to go in to remove the polyps, adding an extra step in the screening/treatment process. A standard colonoscopy is one-stop shopping, in a sense.”
He adds that although there are studies showing certain dietary supplements, like calcium or vitamin D, or certain activities may decrease the chances of developing colon cancer, it’s still important to get the proper screening.
"While there may be some truth to these claims, it’s a known fact that eating right, exercising and avoiding excessive use of alcohol or tobacco are beneficial for all areas of health,” he says. "But that doesn’t replace the need for a colonoscopy—at age 50 for most adults. Relatives of patients with polyps or colon cancer can be advised by their physicians about alternative screening recommendations.
"It may be somewhat invasive and embarrassing, but the benefits far outweigh the risk of having an undetected colon cancer or a polyp.”