Ask the Doctor: Howard Hardy, III, MD and Charles Eisengart, MD

Colorectal Cancer

Howard Hardy III, MD, and Charles Eisengart, MD

Howard Hardy III, MD, and Charles Eisengart, MD

Although colorectal cancer is the second-leading cancer killer among men and women in the U.S., it is a preventable, treatable and curable disease if caught early. The best way to catch colorectal cancer early is to screen for it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 59 percent of people of screening age go through with today’s available tests. This year, the American Cancer Society expects over 101,610 new cases of colon cancer and over 43,340 new cases of rectal cancer to be diagnosed.

With March recognized as Colorectal Cancer Awareness month, Howard Hardy III, MD, and Charles Eisengart, MD, from Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Hamilton, an RWJBarnabas Health facility, offer insight on screening recommendations for colorectal cancer outline warning signs and lifestyle changes to lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Q: When should I have my first colonoscopy?

Dr. Eisengart: The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons recommends that individuals consider their first screening at age 45. On the other hand, 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 45 to develop a baseline. It’s best to discuss your risk factors with your physician to determine when you should begin screenings.

Q: How often do I need a colonoscopy?
Dr. Hardy:Colonoscopies are recommended every 10 years if no polyps are detected. If polyps are detected, it is recommended that the patient have another surveillance colonoscopy in three to five years. Again, 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

Q: Are there any warning signs of colorectal cancer?

Dr. Hardy: Adults should talk to their family and doctors to determine their family history, but they should also know the following warning signs and symptoms:

  • A change in bowel habits that lasts for more than a few days, including diarrhea, constipation, or a sensation that your bowel is still not empty after a bowel movement
  • Bright red or very dark blood in your stool
  • Constant tiredness
  • Stools that are thinner than usual
  • Stools that appear slimy or that have a mucous film on them
  • Persistent gas pains, bloating, fullness, or cramps
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Vomiting

If you experience any of the above symptoms, tell your health care provider and get prompt medical attention.

Q: Is colorectal cancer genetic?

Dr. Hardy: While a healthy lifestyle can greatly reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer, genetics still play a major role. Colon cancer can often be caused by genetic factors, or mutated genes that are inherited from our ancestors and immediate family members. Genetic testing may provide peace of mind to those with a history of family illness and can eliminate the need for unnecessary checkups. For individuals with high colorectal cancer risk factors – such as a strong family history of colorectal cancer, a personal history of colorectal cancer, or polyps or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, screening should begin at an earlier age and they should be screened more often.

Q: How can I prevent colorectal cancer?

Dr. Hardy: Many lifestyle-related factors have been linked to colorectal cancer. Some lifestyle changes that help to reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer and to promote overall wellness and colon health include:

  • Exercising at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week
  • Maintaining a healthy weight with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 18-25
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Stopping smoking and / or using tobacco

Schedule an appointment with Howard Hardy, III, MD at 609-896-1700.

[RS1] Updated for 2020