Q&A Topic: Preventing Colorectal Cancer

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Jerald D. Wishner, MD, FACS

Q. How do I know if I am at risk for colorectal cancer?
A. An estimated 90 percent of all colorectal cancers (cancer of the colon or rectum) occur in people age 50 and older. So, in a sense, everyone is at risk simply by reaching that milestone birthday. Besides age, risk factors include prior colon cancer, a family history of colon cancer or other cancers, colonic diseases, or GI problems. Now consider, if everyone 50 and older had a regular screening test, 80 percent of deaths from colon cancer could be prevented.

Q. What can I do to help prevent colon cancer?
A. Get a colonoscopy. It’s just that simple. A colonoscopy is considered the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening and surveillance. During the screening, we look for cancer and remove any potentially pre-cancerous growths called polyps. For people with no risk factors, current guidelines call for screening every 10 years starting at age 50. If polyps are found, you will be given a personalized screening regimen. Most cancers take six to eight years to develop from the time a polyp begins to grow. Theoretically, as long as you follow the customized regimen prescribed, you should never get colon cancer. The death rate from colorectal cancer has been declining for more than 20 years, largely due to the effectiveness of screening.

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Q. Is a colonoscopy uncomfortable?
A. Not at all. During the procedure, which typically takes 20 to 30 minutes, you are placed in a state of conscious sedation under the management of an anesthesiologist. You go gently to sleep and have no pain or awareness of the procedure. There are also ways to make the day-before prep less of a trial. Talk with your doctor about such options as flavor packets for the liquid, and replacing the liquid with pills. Try refrigerating the liquid and drinking it chilled over ice, which many patients find easier.

Q. Can colorectal cancer be cured?A. Thanks to colonoscopy screenings, we are finding this cancer at an earlier stage, and that is greatly improving survival. In addition, technological advances in the treatment of colorectal cancer are resulting in significantly better outcomes.

Northern Westchester Hospital
Co-Director, Institute of Robotic and Minimally Invasive Surgery
Medical Director, Colorectal Surgery Program
Learn More About Dr. Wishner

Read about minimally invasive colorectal cancer surgery.

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More from Dr. Wishner: Colorectal Cancer and Colonoscopy

Northern Westchester Hospital is a proud member of Northwell Health (formerly North Shore-LIJ Health System).

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