The numbers are startling. 25-30 percent of men over 50 years of age have pre-cancerous polyps. Nearly as many women, 20-25 percent, have them too. These adults are asymptomatic, which is why Mark Silversmith, MD of CMC’s New Hampshire Gastroenterology has one simple message: “Be seen and get screened. The best treatment for colorectal cancer is to remove it before it develops.”
Healthy adults should get screened once every ten years, starting at age 50. The recommendation for those with a family history or other risk factors varies but is typically every five years, starting at an earlier age. Dr. Silversmith notes that colonoscopies, the most accurate and effective screening, have minimal, if any, discomfort because the patient is sedated. The goal is to identify and then remove precancerous polyps. Rarely does a colonoscopy find cancer.
Most pre-cancerous polyps can be removed at the time of the colonoscopy through a polyectomy. Even larger polyps, which carry a higher risk for cancer, can be removed in the outpatient setting through a procedure called endoscopic mucosal resection. “In cases where surgery is necessary,” says Leandro Feo, MD, FACS at CMC’s Surgical Care Group, “we have minimally invasive laparoscopic or robotic assisted da Vinci® Surgical System procedures available.”
Minimally invasive procedures allow for less pain and quicker recovery. These same methods can be used in cases where cancer is found, however, a biopsy would be performed to determine the stage and type of cancer. “The stage and the pathology tells us whether surgery will suffice or whether further treatment, like chemotherapy or radiation, is necessary,” says Dr. Feo.
Unfortunately, Dr. Silversmith says many people, even those with a family history of colon cancer, delay getting screened. “People are often reluctant to have a colonoscopy because of the prep work, the perceived discomfort, or because they’re afraid of what we might find,” he says. “Those factors are nothing compared to having cancer. You can do it once every ten years.”
March is designated as National Colon Cancer Awareness Month. If you’re over age 50, or have a family history, take this opportunity to schedule a colonoscopy. CMC offers this procedure in the comfort, privacy and convenience of our endoscopy department. It’s easy to schedule – call to make your appointment: 603.626.2626.