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That’s what Dale Burleson, M.D., a colon and rectal surgeon and chief of the colon and rectal surgery division at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano, tells his patients about colon cancer. “I can’t prevent breast cancer. I can’t prevent prostate cancer,” he says. “But with screenings, we can prevent colon cancer.”
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and Dr. Burleson answers a few questions about this cancer.
Q: How does colon cancer develop?
A: “Colon cancer starts with little polyps in the colon,” Dr. Burleson says. These are essentially small bumps. If found during a screening, they can be removed before they become cancerous.
Q: When should people begin screening?
A: Around age 50, Dr. Burleson says. Because of their higher risk, however, people with a family history of the disease, those with a personal history of other colorectal conditions and African Americans should start screenings earlier. Talk with your doctor about when you should start based on your risk factors.
Q: What screening options are available?
A: “Nothing has been shown to be better than the colonoscopy,” Dr. Burleson says. There are other options, he says, such as barium enema or flexible sigmoidoscopy, but these screening methods miss about 15 percent of cancers.
A virtual colonoscopy is fine for finding large lesions, he explains, but small polyps can be missed. “About 65 percent of the time, the test shows something, and then you have to have a real colonoscopy,” he says.
A couple screenings test for blood in the stool, but these catch only about 50 percent of colorectal cancers. A colonoscopy finds 99.5 percent of polyps, he says, adding, “It can take your risk of cancer down to next to zero.”
Q: What do you tell people who are nervous about screening?
A: Some people are concerned about the bowel prep. “But our preps have improved dramatically,” he says. “It’s so much easier even 10 years ago.” And the sedative medications are better, so patients feel normal quicker.
“Some are afraid to have a colonoscopy because of what we might find,” Dr. Burleson says. “But we can prevent the problem from ever happening. And even if you have something, the sooner it’s found, the better.”
Schedule your colonoscopy today. Search here or call 1.800.4BAYLOR for a referral to a colon and rectal specialist on the Baylor Plano medical staff.
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