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2006: Screenings During Colon Cancer Awareness Month
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Screenings During Colon Cancer Awareness Month

Experts Encourage Screenings During Colon Cancer Awareness Month in March

Colon cancer is the second most common cause of death from cancer in the U.S., responsible for more than 50,000 deaths annually, yet it’s survivable if caught in the early stages. In fact, the five-year survival rate for localized colon cancer is more than 90 percent.

“We urge everyone who is 50 or older to take responsibility for their well being and get screened for colon cancer this month,” said Anthony Altimari, M.D., Central DuPage Hospital. “Screenings are designed to detect polyps and colorectal cancer in the early, most curable stages. It’s time for Baby Boomers to face the fact that screenings must become a normal part of their health regime, and they should not wait until symptoms become obvious.”

Screening examinations reveal changes before symptoms appear. “Screening is important because early colon cancers cause no symptoms,” said Dr. Altimari. “Frequently tumors may bleed a very small amount so that the blood can only be detected by the hemoccult testing.”

Minimally Invasive Surgery

If colon cancer is detected, Dr. Altimari urges patients to remain calm because there is much new hope and success in treating colon cancer: “So many patients tell me they avoided screenings because they were afraid of what we’d find. That is worrisome because there is so much we can do for colon cancer patients if we find issues early.”

Dr. Altimari says treatment has changed dramatically over the past decade, and laparoscopic or minimally invasive surgery is often the preferred option. More than 250,000 of these procedures are performed nationwide each year.

The benefits of minimally invasive colon surgery include a decrease in pain and scarring, which also decreases the amount of pain medication needed after surgery, a shorter hospital stay of 3-7 days compared to 5-10 days for the open surgical procedure and a more rapid return to work and normal activity in 2 weeks versus 4-6 weeks.

Laparoscopic surgery was first performed early in the 20th century when surgeons adapted instruments to examine the abdominal cavity. Over the past decade, equipment, instrumentation, and surgical skills have markedly improved and surgeons are now capable of using these techniques to safely perform a multitude of procedures. Central DuPage Hospital is a forerunner of this technology and performs hundreds of sophisticated laparoscopic procedures each year.

The future, predicts Dr. Altimari, will bring equally sophisticated advances such as telesurgery, increased use of robotics, miniaturization of devices, and computer-aided surgery.

About Central DuPage’s Colorectal Cancer Screening

Colorectal Cancer Screening Center provides outpatient screening by flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy. The Colorectal Cancer Screening Center is part of the Central DuPage Hospital Oncology Program, which provides a full range of diagnostic and multi-disciplinary treatments for cancer.

Screening for Answers

Experts recommend colorectal screening tests for cancer begin at age 50 , unless a family history or previous medical condition indicates earlier screenings may be necessary. Screenings may include:

  • Fecal occult blood test, a simple at-home procedure for checking stool sample for hidden blood; recommended annually.
  • Flexible Sigmoidscopy, a thin flexible tube passed into the rectum and lower colon which allows the health professional to search for abnormalities; recommended every five years.
  • Colonoscopy, a similar procedure to the sigmoidscopy except the colonoscope is long enough to view the entire colon; recommended every 10 years.
  • Double-contrast barium enema, an x-ray examination that allows a radiologist to view the entire colon; recommended every 5 years.