ST. LOUIS – Colon cancer is considered by many physicians to be a preventable cancer. Unfortunately, it’s America’s second leading cancer killer.
The reason many experts point to is lack of awareness that screening colonoscopy saves lives.
“The good news about colon cancer is that if caught early, it can be completely cured,” says James Fleshman, MD, chief of colorectal surgery at the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine. “Regular colonoscopies provide the opportunity to detect colon cancer at its earliest, most treatable stages.”
To help raise awareness during Colon Cancer Awareness Month in March, Dr. Fleshman and the Siteman Cancer Center are sponsors of the second annual Colon Cancer Alliance “Undy 5000,” Saturday, March 27 at Forest Park. The five kilometer run/walk is designed to raise awareness and funds for colon cancer in an unusual way. While not required, participants are encouraged to wear their favorite boxer shorts.
The American Cancer Society recommends that every person age 50 and greater have a colonoscopy – a screening test for colon cancer – at least every 10 years.
“March is a special opportunity to inform patients, family and friends about what they can do to protect their health against this very preventable disease,” says Dr. Fleshman, who is also chief of surgical services at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital. “While there are many screenings that can signal colon cancer, a colonoscopy is considered the gold standard because it provides a clear picture of the entire colon. Screening can reduce a patient’s risk by 80% or more.”
“A colonoscopy may be inconvenient, but the evidence of its benefits is clear,” says Dr. Fleshman. “I tell people who are afraid of colonoscopies – this can save your life.”
For patients who do need surgery, surgeons point out advances offer less invasive methods of removing colon cancer.
A groundbreaking study published in 2004 in the New England Journal of Medicine showed minimally invasive or laparoscopic surgery for the treatment of colon cancer had survival rates comparable to traditional, open surgery. The study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and led by the Clinical Outcomes of Surgical Therapy (COST) Study Group, demonstrated patient benefits of less time in the hospital, less scarring, and less pain with minimally invasive surgery compared to open surgery for colon cancer.
“For patients whose cancer is operable, the availability of minimally invasive surgery is a great step forward,” said Dr. Fleshman, a principal investigator in COST study. “This is a real victory for patients who can have a smaller reminder of their battle with colon cancer, with a quicker recovery time and less pain.”