Doctors recommend patients keep up with colon cancer screenings

Published: Mar. 1, 2022 at 6:30 PM CST
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - The thought of getting a colon screening may make you uncomfortable. However, doctors say keeping up with your routine colonoscopies can vastly reduce your risk of developing colon cancer.

“It’s the third leading cause of premature death in the United States,” Marshfield Clinic-Lake Hallie family medicine doctor, Jeff Shepich said.

Colon cancer affects tens of thousands of people a year.

That’s why doctors like Shepich say colonoscopes are the gold standard for detection.

“It’s important that we screen so we can intervene early before it becomes cancer or if it is early cancer, we can actually treat it,” Shepich said.

Doctor Tim Pitchford, a general surgeon for Marshfield Medical Center, agrees that colonoscopies are the best way to go about getting screened for colon cancer.

“Colon cancer is a preventable cancer if people are properly screened for it because on average a polyp takes about 10 years to become cancer,” Pitchford said.

Pitchford describes colon cancer as an abnormal growth of cells in the colon.

" A majority of them start as polyps and that’s what that’s why we do colonoscopies to detect polyps before they become cancerous,” Pitchford said.

Pitchford says typically the average person should start getting screened at age 45, but adds there may be factors that warrant earlier visits.

“One in four people that we screen are going to have polyps which is important because like I said if those polyps are allowed to grow then they can become cancer,” Pitchford said. “We usually recommend age 45, but if somebody does have a family history of colon cancer, then we recommend screening 10 years before that person was diagnosed.”

Shepich says a benefit of routine colon screenings is if polys are found, they can be dealt with right then and there.

“It gives us an opportunity to intervene before its cancer or if it’s indeed a cancerous polyp to actually excise and get rid of it,” Shepich said. “Then that protects you going forward.”

Pitchford agrees.

“If I can remove that at that point I always feel really good about that because then we’ve just saved a person from having to go through dealing with colon cancer,” Pitchford said.

Typically if the colon screening comes back without any concerning results you can wait another decade before your next one.

“Say that we do a colonoscopy and someone is average risk and we don’t find any polyps, then we don’t have to do another one for 10 years,” Pitchford said. “So you’re talking about potentially three or four colonoscopies in your lifetime.”

If something is found, you might have to seek out more frequent colonoscopies.

“If you should have a polyp that’s pre-cancerous or concerning, you might need to have a colonoscopy more frequently than every ten years which is what’s recommended for average-risk patients,” Shepich said.

With the number of colon screenings dropping due to the pandemic and other factors, Shepich urges patients to take colon screenings into their own hands.

“I really am trying to encourage patients to take control of their own care and be advocates for themselves and not wait for their provider to contact them letting them know that they’re due for a colonoscopy,” Shepich said.

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