Santa Barbara doctors support national colonoscopy screening effort

Dr Exam

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Cancer of the colon and rectum remains the number two cause of death from cancer in the United States behind lung cancer. Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is 5%. That is a lot of people. The American Cancer Society predicts that around 50,310 people will die of the disease in 2014. The good news is that colorectal cancer is largely preventable.

Most colon cancers begin as benign polyps which are solid tumors of the colon. With time, these tumors can grow in size and develop more and more mutations until they finally turn into cancers. This process usually takes years to occur, so there is a large window of opportunity for us to find patients who have polyps and remove them before they turn into cancers.

There are several options for screening patients for colon polyps and cancers. Colonoscopy once every 10 years starting at age 50 is the preferred screening measure advocated by the American College of Gastroenterology. Other options endorsed by the American Cancer Society include flexible sigmoidoscopy once every 5 years, stool testing for microscopic blood every year, barium enema every 5 years and virtual colonoscopy by CAT scan every 5 years. Virtual colonoscopy is not covered by most insurance policies. You should ask your physician which method is the best option for you. Some patients are at high risk for colon cancer. This includes patients with a prior history of colon polyps or inflammatory bowel disease and patients with a family history of colon and sometimes other types of cancers. Most high risk patients should be screened with colonoscopy at intervals less than 10 years and sometimes starting earlier than age 50.

In honor of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, Santa Barbara Gastroenterology (Drs. Bentley, Kovacs, Aguirre and Taylor) in conjunction with the Santa Barbara Endoscopy Center will be scheduling patients for screening colonoscopies free of charge on March 4 and March 28. This effort is being coordinated with the office of public health to offer screenings to patients who would not otherwise be able to get screened due to financial limitations. If you feel you may be eligible for this free screening, please contact the Santa Barbara Endoscopy Center at 966-1600.

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