In March, our thoughts turn to green beer, the first signs of spring —
OK, most of us probably don’t think of colonoscopies in March—
or any other time— but maybe we should. Colon cancer is the third
most common cancer in men and women in the U.S. and the third leading
cause of cancer deaths. It’s also very treatable when caught early,
and routine screenings play a significant role in that.
“This is one of the few types of cancer where I can detect the cancer
and eradicate it during the diagnostic process,” says Dr. Adam Moskowitz,
a gastroenterologist with Cortland Regional Medical Center. “If
I encounter a polyp while I’m doing the colonoscopy, I can remove
it right then. The procedure is diagnostic and therapeutic at the same
A polyp is a growth on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Some but
not all polyps can become cancerous. Research shows that certain individuals
are at a higher risk for developing colon cancer, including those over
age 60, individuals whose parent or sibling had colon cancer, those diagnosed
with inflammatory bowel disease, and African-American men.
“Everybody should have a colonoscopy at some point in their life,
but the standard right now is for people over the age of 50. African-American
men should have their first colonoscopy at age 45,” says Dr. Moskowitz.
Dr. Moskowitz and his colleague Dr. Young Lee admit that many people avoid
the procedure because they are not comfortable with the process. There
are some less invasive options.
“A barium enema can be done in the x-ray department, and that’s
an effective diagnostic tool,” Dr. Moskowitz says. “And there’s
a virtual colonoscopy that’s a CT scan of the colon used for those
patients who simply refuse to have the regular procedure.”
There is also a new class of at-home testing methods that analyze the stool
for blood and DNA abnormalities that could indicate cancer’s presence.
“Cologuard® is one of these fecal immunochemical tests that
we see advertised,” says Dr. Lee. “You need a prescription,
and they will send you a kit to use at home. The company sends the test
results to your doctor.” If the report shows blood in the stool,
your doctor will recommend a colonoscopy. “But at that point, the
colonoscopy is no longer considered diagnostic, so some insurance companies
may not cover the entire cost. Patients need to consider that,”
Dr. Lee points out.
Colonoscopy remains the best diagnostic tool for finding problems sooner,
and sooner is better. Dr. Lee says there's been “a lot of headway”
made in successfully treating colorectal cancer in its early stages. Recent
studies have shown more cases of colon and rectal cancer in young adults,
however; those born in 1990 and later are at double the risk of the disease
than those born in 1950.
“We don’t know why that is, but it may be related to diet,
the lack of exercise, and increased obesity that we’re seeing in
younger people,” he said.
To keep your colon healthy, Dr. Moskowitz recommends exercising and increasing
your healthy fiber intake by taking a water-soluble fiber supplement like
Metamucil every day. He was adamant in making one other dietary recommendation:
“Avoid barbequed red meats.”
Dr. Moskowitz and Dr. Lee diagnose and treat a range of GI and digestive
illnesses including celiac disease, heartburn, pancreatitis and inflammatory
bowel disease. They are accepting new patients at 607-428-5701.
When To See Your Doctor
These symptoms could indicate colorectal disease:
• Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea
• Blood in your stool
• Rectal bleeding
• Abdominal bloating, cramps
• Stool that is thinner than usual