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March 2010 Issue

Image of a tumor and polyps in the colon.
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Detection Can Head Off Colon Cancer, But Too Many Ignore Its Symptoms

By Katie Pence
Published March 2010

Colorectal cancer may not be as loudly discussed as heart disease or breast cancer, but it’s just as prevalent and deadly says Richard Rood, MD, a UC Health digestive diseases expert.

Rood specializes in the treatment of diseases of the colon, or large intestine, and small intestine.

"Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common form of cancer in the United States and the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the Western world,” he says. "If left untreated, it is fatal, but it is easy to treat in its early stages. Diagnosis and treatment are crucial.”

With Colorectal Cancer Aware-ness Month being observed in March, Rood says people should seek recommended screenings for bowel cancer based on their risks and that everyone over the age of 50 should have a colonoscopy.

"If nothing is identified, the colonoscopy should be repeated every 10 years,” he adds. "If anything significant is found, then appropriate therapy can be introduced, and the frequency of the next colonoscopy may be reduced —three years or less.”

In addition, he says people with a family history of colon polyps or colon cancer should begin their colonoscopy screening at age 40. 

"We can stop colon cancer by removing cancerous polyps, as long as the margins of normal tissue are adequate around the polyp,” he says. "If a cancerous tumor spreads into the lymph nodes, approximately 43 to 80 percent of those patients are alive five years later.

"The greatest mortality occurs when the cancer spreads and tumors are found in organs, such as the liver or lung. These patients typically only have a five-year survival of 8 percent. The moral to this story is to get screened.”

Rood says the most frightening part about colon cancer is that there may be no symptoms or signs of its onset. He adds that even if there are symptoms, people often ignore them.

"‘It’s nothing, just my hemorrhoids,’ said a colleague of mine, discussing his two-year history of blood in his stool,” Rood recounts. "One week later, I diagnosed him with colorectal cancer.

"Know your body, be aware of changes and know your risks,” he says. 

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