Conquering Colon Cancer: Early Detection is Key
Namrata Patel, MD
How can colon cancer be prevented?
A healthy diet with limited processed and red meats and high in fruits and vegetables is helpful. Maintain a healthy body weight and participate in regular physical activity. Colon cancer can be curable if found at an early stage. All people should start colorectal cancer screening at age 50. The most common screening method is the colonoscopy, which is recommended every 10 years for the average patient. Patients with immediate family members with colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, or certain genetic pre-dispositions to cancer may be recommended to start screenings at an earlier stage.
What are the signs of colon cancer?
Colon cancer often begins with no symptoms. As the cancer grows, symptoms include: changes in stool or consistency, narrow stools, rectal bleeding, or blood in the stool; diarrhea or constipation, iron deficiency, abdominal pain; pain during bowel movements; weakness or fatigue, common urges to defecate, irritable bowel syndrome, and unexplained weight loss.
What are options to colorectal cancer screening?
Options for colorectal screening include colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, fecal occult blood testing, radiographic barium contrast studies. Patients with inflammatory bowel disease or a genetic pre-disposition to cancer should have colonoscopies. A screening sigmoidoscopy, which can detect colon cancers in the descending colon, can be done every five years. A colonoscopy procedure will also include evaluation of the right colon, as well as the descending colon, and has demonstrated an overall decrease in mortality by 60%.
How do you treat colon cancer?
Treatment plans for colon cancer depend on a number of factors including the stage of the cancer, the health of the patient, and pathologic characteristics of the tumor. Most patients with a colon cancer will start with surgery, and then depending on characteristics of the tumor, including depth of tumor invasion, lympth node assessment, and pathologic characteristics, an oncologist will advise if, and what type, of chemotherapy should be started. Rectal cancer will often involve treatment with chemotherapy and radiation either before or after surgery. Patients who have a limited area of metastatic disease, such as disease that is small and spread to one site in liver or lung, may also have an option to have the disease at that metastatic disease site removed in colon cancer. At NewYork-Presbyterian/Hudson Valley Hospital, we care for our patients with a multi-disciplinary team of highly trained surgeons, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists to create a plan of care for our cancer patients.
How do you care for patients after the treatment has been completed?
Follow-up care after colon cancer treatment is key to staying healthy. A repeat colonoscopy in one year after a cancer resection and then as per your physician recommendation is necessary. Your medical team will recommend a combination of methods for follow-up, including possible computed tomography (CT) scans, blood tests, including carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) tests, and regular physical exams. Risk factors for reoccurrence vary by patient. Continue to exercise and maintain a healthy body weight.
Dr. Patel is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center and the Medical Director of the Cheryl R. Lindenbaum Comprehensive Cancer Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Hudson Valley Hospital. She is board certified in Medical Oncology and Hematology. She is fluent in Spanish and Gujarati. Dr. Patel cares for patients with various malignancies, including GI malignancies, breast cancer, lung cancer, urologic tumors, lymphoma, and benign hematologic conditions. She completed her oncology fellowship at NYU Medical Center after graduating from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and completing her Internal Medicine residency at Stony Brook University Medical Center.
NewYork-Presbyterian/Hudson Valley Hospital
Cheryl R. Lindenbaum Comprehensive Cancer Center
1978 Crompond Road
Cortlandt Manor, NY 10567