With the omicron wave of the COVID-19 pandemic slowly beginning to subside, it’s critically important that we resume getting routine checkups and health screenings. One of the most important, life-saving screenings you can have is a colon cancer screening, because, when caught early, colon cancer is highly curable. Colorectal cancer rates have been decreasing over the last two decades years, in part because an increase in awareness has led to people getting screenings earlier, along with the ability to detect and remove colorectal polyps before they become cancerous. Still, colon cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer death in Tennessee. More than 3,400 people are expected to be diagnosed with colon cancer in the state this year, and 1,250 Tennesseans will die from the disease by the end of 2022. March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, which means it’s a good time to be reminded that colon cancer screenings can catch precancerous lesions before they ever have the chance to turn into cancer. So, simply getting a colon cancer screening could save your life.
“Colon cancer affects both men and women from all ethnicities,” said Blount Memorial gastroenterologist Dr. William Lyles. “However, it’s also one of the most-preventable types of cancer we treat. It’s not only just preventable, it’s curable when detected at an early stage. We know that the risk of colon cancer increases with age, particularly for anyone over age 45. The most important step you can take to prevent colon cancer is to begin getting screened at age 45. That really is the ideal age for average-risk individuals to begin screening since we are now seeing colon cancers detected as young as age 45,” he explained. “Most colon cancers begin as benign polyps, which gives us a chance not only to detect the disease in an early stage, but also to cure it. By screening and removing polyps early, we can eliminate most colon cancers,” he added.
Lyles says there are several types of screening tests for colon cancer, including flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy and testing stools for hidden blood. Newer tests are being developed all the time, and Lyles says most insurance companies in Tennessee will cover the cost of the screenings. However, Lyles says the traditional colonoscopy continues to be the preferred method. “The test has improved greatly over the years,” Lyles said. “Colonoscopy prep used to be the thing people had the most trouble with. Formerly, you would have to drink up to four liters of fluid before the screening, whereas now, in some cases, patients only have to consume around 10 ounces. You still have to drink large volumes of liquid, but most of it now is clear liquid that you get to choose. Fortunately, there’s also a new pill version of the preparation as an alternative.” he explained. “Medications for the endoscopy have gotten better, as well. With medications such as Diprivan or Propofol, you have almost no pain with the procedure. Also, with these medications, you will wake up almost instantly once the I.V. drip is gone, which makes you more coherent after the procedure. I think the procedure and the techniques have gotten much safer,” Lyles added.
“Colon cancer is a big problem, but it’s not something that we can’t get better at,” he said. “It is preventable, and we can make these numbers improve. I highly recommend you speak with your primary care provider today to determine which test is right for you. Doing so can help us detect the disease at an early stage when it can be more than 90 percent curable,” he explained.
For more information about colon cancer screenings, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Lyles, call Blount Memorial Physicians Group – Gastroenterology at 865-980-5060.