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Should You Get a Colonoscopy? Answers to the Top Colorectal Cancer Prevention Questions

Monmouth Medical Center offers comprehensive screenings and advanced colorectal procedures to prevent, diagnose and treat a variety of colorectal conditions

Michael Arvanitis M.D., FACS, FASCRS, the section chief of Colon and Rectal Surgery, Monmouth Medical Center and Roy Dressner D.O., FACS, attending colon and rectal surgeon, Monmouth Medical Center

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death for American men and women and the third most commonly diagnosed cancer for both sexes. This year alone, the American Cancer Society expects more than 135,000 new cases of colon and rectal cancer to be diagnosed. A cancer diagnosis is life changing for patients and their families. The good news is, the risk for developing colorectal cancer can be reduced.

Every day at Monmouth Medical Center, we utilize innovative preventative colorectal cancer screenings and minimally invasive colorectal surgical techniques to offer more patients and their families a positive prognosis. We advocate for preventative screenings and employ advanced screening techniques. With this approach, the death rate for those that develop colorectal cancer has dropped significantly over the past two decades. All our efforts are focused on preventing patients from becoming a statistic, and enhancing the quality of life for those facing a colorectal cancer diangosis.

Who should get screened for colorectal cancer?

Starting at age 50, or earlier for those with a family history, individuals are encouraged to have their first colonoscopy. Men and women who have a personal or family history of colorectal cancer, polyps or a personal history of long-term inflammatory bowel disease may need to be screened before age 50, as well as women with a personal or family history of ovarian, endometrial or breast cancer. While you should schedule a colonoscopy at any age if you experience changes in bowel habits, abdominal pain, persistent cramping or bleeding, screenings are recommended even when symptoms are not present as early stages of cancer can easily go undetected. Other signs to watch for are unintentional weight loss, fatigue or unexplained dizziness when rising, which could be a sign of a low blood count secondary to a prolonged bleeding tumor.

How can I learn more about my family risk for cancer?

The Leon Hess Cancer Center at Monmouth Medical Center offers a High Risk Cancer Assessment Program that is designed to evaluate, educate and closely monitor those at high risk for developing cancer. Created for individuals and families who are concerned about their risk of developing cancer due to their medical and family history, environmental factors and lifestyle choices, its main goal is to educate and provide cancer screening and prevention recommendations for individuals at high risk for developing the disease. The program helps patients and their families confronting cancer risks to make informed decisions about their health care needs by providing them with appropriate medical and genetic information, social support and resources. As part of the program, a high risk team has been assembled — its members working closely with each patient to develop a personal health plan and to educate them about individual risk factors. Individuals interested in learning more can call call Sherry Grumet, M.A., M.S., C.G.C., the board-certified oncology genetic counselor who leads the program, at 732-923-6711.

What happens during a colonoscopy and what can I expect?

The procedure itself takes about 20-30 minutes. The day before, the patient is instructed to ingest an oral bowel cleansing preparation in liquid form that cleans out their colon, so the doctor can see the colon clearly with a scope that is passed through the rectum. Once at the Comprehensive Digestive Center at Monmouth Medical Center for the screening, the patient is administered short acting sedation so the patient is asleep to ensure comfort during the procedure. During the procedure, a flexible fiber optic instrument is used to perform a visual examination of the colon, screening for precancerous-polyps which may later turn into cancer. A doctor can easily remove any polyps that may be found during the colonoscopy and perform biopsies as needed.

How often do I need to have a colonoscopy?

Colonoscopies are quick and usually painless procedures that are only needed every 10 years if no polyps are detected. If polyps are detected, it is recommended that the patient have another screening colonoscopy in three to five years. If you are at high risk, have a family history, or have had colon cancer before, speak with your physician about how often you should have the procedure.

What happens if cancer is detected?

If cancer is found, Monmouth Medical Center offers a variety of leading-edge surgical techniques that are used to treat colon cancer and other colorectal conditions. While chemotherapy and radiation, offered through The Leon Hess Cancer Center at Monmouth Medical Center, may prove effective for certain types of cancers, Monmouth Medical Center is a leader in non-invasive surgical techniques to treat advanced forms of colorectal cancer as well as Crohn’s disease, colitis, diverticulitis and other conditions affecting the colon, rectum and surrounding areas. Surgical options include colectomy, colon resection and abdominal perineal resection which remove or resection damaged portions of the colon, rectum or abdomen to prevent the spread of disease throughout the gastrointestinal tract and body. Instead of traditional 8-12 inch incisions which can cause scaring and often require long recovery times, Monmouth Medical Center’s minimally invasive surgical techniques allow surgeons to work through several small incisions using a laparoscope. Smaller incisions result in shorter hospital stays and often have patients back to work within several weeks.

Monmouth Medical Center offers comprehensive screenings and advanced colorectal procedures to prevent, diagnose and treat a variety of colorectal conditions. For more information about the Comprehensive Digestive Center at Monmouth Medical Center, colorectal cancer screenings, and colorectal surgery at Monmouth Medical Center, please call 732-923-6070.