Dr. Erick Alayo, a gastroenterologist affiliated with Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, answers frequently asked questions about colon cancer and explains why men especially need to talk about it.
Is it true that colon cancer is preventable?
Colon cancer is preventable approximately 80 percent of the time because it usually starts as a noncancerous growth called a polyp; not all polyps progress to cancer, but the transformation for those that do typically takes years. It's during these key years that we have the best chance at beating the disease.
How is colon cancer diagnosed?
We're fortunate to have a variety of screening tests that help us diagnose the disease early, which is the single biggest contributing factor to survival. These tests include colonoscopy, virtual colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, fecal occult blood test and double contrast barium enema. Many experts disagree on which test is best, yet the most widely used is colonoscopy.
During a colonoscopy, the rectum and colon are examined using a thin, flexible tube called a colonoscope, which can find precancerous and cancerous growths throughout the colon so they can be removed or biopsied. A thorough cleansing of the colon, called colon prep, is necessary before the test, and during the actual procedure. A common misconception is that colonoscopy is painful or unpleasant, but patients receive some form of sedation to prevent discomfort.
Why is it important for men especially to be aware of colon cancer?
Colons and rectums are not traditional dinner-table talk, but to make progress in the battle against colorectal cancer, we must become more comfortable talking about them. Men especially will avoid these topics whenever possible. In addition, men tend to be more likely to ignore warning signs, which may include blood in the stool, changes in bowel activity (i.e. having to use the bathroom more or less often), abdominal pain, weight loss and poor appetite.
For More Information
To learn more about cancer care at the Barnhart Cancer Center or to find a Sharp Chula Vista-affiliated physician, search for San Diego doctors or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm.