Published Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Health: Early detection of colorectal cancers 'critical'


The most common symptom of an early-stage colorectal cancer is "nothing," says Dr. George Daneker, chief of staff and chief of surgery of Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) of the Southeast.

While Dr. Daneker prepares for the opening of CTCA of the Southeast this summer in Newnan, he is also working to highlight prevention of colon and related cancers during March -- Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

"That's part of the problem," said Daneker about the lack of symptoms in finding early cancers of the colon or rectum.

Research from the American College of Physicians (ACP) shows that only 60 percent of adults aged 50 and older actually get screened for colorectal cancer. Age 50 is the recommended time for a colonoscopy for those with no immediate family history of the disease.

Symptoms of colon and rectal cancers can include bright, red or dark blood in the stool, a change in bowel movements, or anemia and fatigue.

"These cancers tend to be diagnosed at a later stage," said Daneker.

The advantage of a colonoscopy is that it provides a "good look at the entire colon." Detected polyps, which can become cancerous, can be removed right then and there in "one-stop shopping."

The risks involved with a colonoscopy are low. "The worst part is the prep," admits Daneker. During the procedure itself, the patient is given a twilight sleep drug for comfort.

For those who have a first degree relative -- a sibling or parent -- with a colorectal cancer, the screening guidelines change. In that instance, the initial screening should take place 10 years prior to the relative's age of diagnosis and every five years after age 40. "The intervals between colonoscopies is shorter," explained Daneker.

According to the American Cancer Society, there will be approximately 103,170 new cases of colon cancer and 40,290 new cases of rectal cancers this year.

Not counting skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer found in men and women in this country. Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 20 and occurs almost equally in men and women.

"Early detection and treatment will often times lead to a cure," said Daneker.

Lifestyle also places one at risk for colorectal cancers. The same factors that place one at risk for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease also increase the possibility of developing colon cancers. These risk factors include physical inactivity, smoking, alcohol consumption and a "diet high in red meat" and processed or high-fat or fried foods.

Daneker advises people to exercise, and "maintain your weight within a healthy range."

Calcium with Vitamin D has been shown to help prevent colon cancers, and there is some evidence of the value of an 80 mg, daily aspirin regimen. However, Daneker stresses that individuals should only take daily aspirin upon the advice of their physician.

The six-month survival rate for colon cancer patients at CTCA is 87 percent, compared to the national survival rate reported by the National Cancer Institute of 79 percent at six months.

While CTCA uses the latest in technology and treatments for patients, its treatment teams also include a nutritionist, naturopath, and a physical therapist. "We pride ourselves on delivering care to the whole patient," said Daneker. Using this approach leaves patients "psychologically, physically and spiritually in a better allows them to do better," he said.

Treatments for colorectal cancers include surgery, radiation including intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT), chemotherapy, and targeted therapy directed mainly to the cancer cells instead of all cells.

"The treatments are proven and effective," said Daneker.

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