March is colorectal cancer awareness month


March is colorectal cancer awareness month. Dr. Joseph Sharlow, general surgeon at Ste. Genevieve County Memorial Hospital, encourages people 50 and older to step forward and have the screening that no one wants to talk about—a colonoscopy.
“Colon cancer is one of the most common cancers in men and women,” Dr. Sharlow said. “It’s also one of the most treatable if found early, and also the most preventable. We estimate about 140,000 people will develop colorectal cancer each year and the death rate is about 56,000 a year. That’s too many lives lost. Colorectal cancer is highly preventable with screenings.”

The good news, according to Dr. Sharlow, is that more people are indeed taking advantage of screenings.

“The actual incidence of colorectal cancer has been decreasing for the last 10 years by 2.5 percent a year, and that’s because of screenings,” he said. “I encourage everyone to consider screening because the disease can be detected early at a curable stage, and it can be prevented through the detection and removal of precancerous polyps.”

So why are people so reluctant to have a colonoscopy?
“I think it’s a fear of the unknown, of not understanding how simple this test is,” said Dr. Sharlow. “Sometimes it’s just easier to put your head in the sand and say, ‘if I don’t think about it, nothing will happen.’ Some people have a stigma about having to go through the prep, but preparation the evening before a colonoscopy is getting easier and now requires less liquid to drink and less time.”
Colonoscopy, itself, takes only about 20 minutes, he explained. The patient is in and out the same day. They just need a ride home. If their colon is normal they can have 10-year intervals between their colonoscopies.
Still not convinced? Still looking for an easier way?
Dr. Sharlow said there are other ways, including that home test, for which we see the cute little TV commercials.
“I tell patients to discuss these other options with their provider to see if they’re a candidate,” he said.
These options include the Hemoccult testing, which checks for the presence of hidden blood in the stool. There’s a Flexible sigmoidoscopy, which is a partial study of the colon, and a barium enema, which is an X-ray exam of the large intestine (colon and rectum).
“All of these options, however, have to be done regularly,” Sharlow said. “Colonoscopy is still the gold standard.” “Without screening you don’t know you have it, so you’re taking your chances,” said Dr. Sharlow. “If you do have symptoms, like a change in bowel habits, or bright red blood in your stool or even a change in the size of your stool, that’s the time to see your provider and decide on the next course of action.”
Colonoscopies are recommended at age 50 for most, unless there’s a family history of the disease, then you may want to consider starting the screening test earlier.
Twenty-eight years and over 10,000 colonoscopies under his belt, no pun intended, Dr. Sharlow knows a thing or two about colorectal cancer.

“I can say that there are a lot if individuals who are appreciative of having made the decision to have screening,” he said. “They can sleep well knowing polyps were removed and they may have prevented a cancer that may have compromised their life. There’s nothing easier to do when it comes to screenings.”

Talk to your provider and colonoscopy can easily be ordered, or if you currently don’t have a primary care provider, Dr. Sharlow welcomes your call and will discuss the screening with you at the at Ste. Genevieve Surgical Care at Ste. Genevieve County Memorial Hospital. Call 573-883-5717.

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