Colonoscopies can prevent colon cancer
Tom Lynch's mother died of colon cancer at age 56, more than 40 years ago. Back then, screening for colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, and the push for detection and prevention hardly existed. "I was pretty young when my mom died," Ly...
Tom Lynch's mother died of colon cancer at age 56, more than 40 years ago.
Back then, screening for colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, and the push for detection and prevention hardly existed.
"I was pretty young when my mom died," Lynch said. "It is a horrible disease that can be prevented today."
Lynch, who marked his 64th birthday on Tuesday, knows the value of colonoscopy, a procedure where a thin, flexible, lighted scope is used to inspect the colon and rectum for abnormal growths.
He had his second colonoscopy last week and had no inflamed tissue, ulcers or abnormal growths.
"With a genetic history of the disease, it is important to get tested periodically," Lynch said. "We have the technology to prevent and identify problems.
"If the colonoscopy finds nothing, you have peace of mind, and if something is detected, you are heading the problem off at the pass, and it doesn't have to turn into a family and personal crisis," he said.
One in 20 Americans are diagnosed with colon cancer even though it's preventable in most cases, according to Dr. Gregory Cramer, a Franciscan Skemp gastroenterologist who conducted Lynch's colonoscopy.
"Anyone over the age of 50 needs to think seriously about getting a colonoscopy because with this procedure we can prevent people from getting the disease," Cramer said.
"I have seen people who waited too long and wished they had started with a colonoscopy at age 50," Cramer said.
Cramer said the general recommendations are that everyone have a colonoscopy at age 50, but if there is a family history, the procedure should be done between age 40 and 45. Then a colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years, or more often based on the findings and for those with a family history, he said.
Franciscan Skemp has seen about a 10 percent increase in colonoscopies every year for the past few years.
Almost 80 percent of Gundersen Lutheran patients who should have a colonoscopy have had the procedure, the highest of any Wisconsin health care institution, according to Dr. Scott Rathgaber, a Gundersen Lutheran gastroenterologist .
"Screening has been embraced by the community, and I think over the past five years we have focused on an integrated approach with primary care and surgeons to get the message out," Rathgaber said.
Colonoscopy can reduce deaths from colon cancer by 70 to 80 percent, he said.
"With colonoscopy, we find polyps and remove them so they don't become cancer," Rathgaber said. "The real goal is to prevent cancer."
Due to screening, the incidence and the death rate of colon cancer have been reduced significantly in the United States. From 1997 to 2007, the incidence has dropped 35 percent for men and 31 percent for women in Wisconsin. Death rates in Wisconsin declined 32 percent for men and 29 percent for women.
According to the American Cancer Society, the colon cancer death rate can be cut in half if Americans simply followed screening guidelines.
Dr. Frank Aberger, a Gundersen Lutheran gastroenterologist, said most colon cancers are slow growing and develop from polyps or growths that may transform into cancer in eight to 12 years.
He said most precancerous polyps do not cause symptoms, and most people with colorectal cancer do not have symptoms until the cancer is in an advanced stage. That's what makes a colonoscopy so important, Aberger said.
"Colonoscopy is still the gold standard for detection and treatment of pre-cancerous growths that turn into cancer," Aberger said. "Colonoscopies have increased, but it still is far from where it should be."
Carol Knaus, 71, of Holmen, doesn't remember having a colon cancer screening when she turned 50 years, but a death in the family pushed her to have her first colonoscopy on March 11.
Even though she has no family history of colon cancer, her husband's cousin died of colon cancer.
"It was a very sad, terrible death, and I decided I didn't want that kind of ending," Knaus said. "Your loved ones shouldn't see you go through something like that, especially when you can prevent it.
"I know I should have had a colonoscopy years ago, I know that now," she said.
Copyright (c) 2011, La Crosse Tribune, Wis./Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.