Stan Quinn’s routine colonoscopy may have saved his life.
When Mr. Quinn, 57, became a new patient at Loyola University Health System last year, his physician prescribed a routine colonoscopy to catch him up on preventive health recommendations.
“I didn’t think anything of it, just that it was a routine exam that was going to reveal nothing wrong,” said Mr. Quinn, who was not experiencing any health problems. “What they actually found was a mass that was too big to remove during the colonoscopy.”
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and the message is simple: this disease is highly preventable. Colorectal cancer is 100 percent preventable through screenings that detect and remove small, pre-cancerous growths called polyps.
Loyola staff will raise awareness for the prevention of colon cancer by wearing blue on March 4, in support of National Dress in Blue Day™.
Cancer of the colon or rectum is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among both men and women in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 140,000 Americans are diagnosed annually with colorectal cancer, and more than 50,000 people die from it.
“Colorectal cancer really should get the same attention as breast cancer, prostate cancer and skin cancer,” said Theodore Saclarides, MD, division director of colorectal surgery at Loyola. “Regular screenings really do save lives.”
“It is now clear that not every colonoscopy is equal,” says Neil Gupta, MD, co-director of the digestive health program and director of interventional endoscopy at Loyola. “Once you’ve decided it’s time to get a screening colonoscopy, the next step is to make sure that you get a high quality one.”
Loyola offers all of the colorectal cancer screening tests that are recommended by the United States Preventive Services Task Force and national medical societies. There are two types of colorectal cancer screening tests: tests that detect colorectal cancer and tests that can detect both colorectal cancer and pre-cancerous polyps, Dr. Gupta said. Colonoscopy, CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy), and flexible sigmoidoscopy are all screening tests that can detect colorectal cancer and pre-cancerous polyps.
Stool tests for blood or DNA (such as fecal occult blood test, fecal immunochemical test, or cologuard) are designed to detect colorectal cancer only.
Get checked, Dr. Saclarides advises, if:
- You have a change in bowel habits.
- You reach an age at which a colonoscopy is recommended. Current guidelines recommend that everyone get screened for colorectal cancer starting at the age of 50.
- Your lifestyle and family history predispose you to colon cancer. People with a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, people with inflammatory bowel disease (such as Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative colitis), and people with hereditary cancer syndromes should start screening earlier.
Loyola physicians perform high quality colonoscopies, performing consistently above the national average on colonoscopy quality measures, including being able to examine the entire colon (cecal intubation rate), having a good bowel prep during the colonoscopy, and detection of pre-cancerous polyps (adenoma detection rate).
“The higher your physician’s adenoma detection rate, the less chance you have of developing colon cancer after your colonoscopy,” said Dr. Gupta, who has an adenoma detection rate of more than 50 percent, meaning he has removed pre-cancerous polyps in more than 50 percent of the screening colonoscopies he has performed. “An adenoma detection rate of at least 20 percent is currently considered a minimum benchmark.”
In addition to the clinic, Loyola treats patients at the GI cancer risk assessment program, where gastroenterologists and geneticists examine and assign a risk to concerned patients.
After Mr. Quinn’s colonoscopy, a biopsy revealed the tumor might be early cancer so the mass had to be removed quickly. Mr. Quinn was referred immediately to Dr. Saclarides, who removed a portion of the colon through laparoscopic surgery, a less-invasive technique involving a small incision, less blood loss and a faster recovery time.
“Stan is basically cured,” Dr. Saclarides said. “And it is all thanks to his getting a colonoscopy, his physicians recommending him to a colorectal surgeon and his being compliant and following through with the procedure.”