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A Simple Screening Can Help Prevent Colorectal Cancer

One in 22 men and one in 24 women will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in their lifetimes, according to the American Cancer Society, making it the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States. The good news is the disease is actually claiming fewer lives than it did in the past. The bad news is the mortality rate has actually increased for people 55 and under. 

The reason behind these numbers is more than likely due to procrastination in getting a routine colonoscopy. The outpatient screening procedure generally takes 15 or 20 minutes under sedation, and can prevent most colorectal cancers.

\“The most common reason people put off getting a colonoscopy is because they need to fully cleanse the colon before the procedure,” says Kevin Skole, MD, a board certified gastroenterologist on the Medical Staff of Penn Medicine Princeton Health. “While it may not be the most pleasant thing to do, the prep has become much easier in the last few years. We now have the choice of several safe, low-volume bowel preps. The taste is much more tolerable, and by splitting the prep into two separate phases, the chance of overwhelming diarrhea, abdominal pain and dehydration is very low. In fact, some people actually feel good after the prep.”

The Magic Number

The age of 50 is when men and women with an average risk of developing colorectal cancer should be screened. Anyone with a family history of the disease should be screened earlier. 

The procedure is used to detect polyps — small clumps of precancerous cells on the lining of the colon — as well as diverticulosis — pockets in the colon wall that can become inflamed and infected. By removing any small polyps during the screening, they are prevented from developing into cancer. 

To make the screening process easier, the Center for Digestive Health at Princeton Medical Center offers the Direct Access Colonoscopy Program, allowing those who meet certain criteria to call 609.750.3040 and schedule a colonoscopy within days, rather than first having an in-person meeting with a doctor. 

“One of our representatives will help the patient go through the registration process, review the patient’s medical history, and schedule the exam,” says Dr. Skole. “No additional visit is needed, unless the scheduler believes the patient and doctor should meet first. This process saves patients time and money.”

To be eligible to participate in the program, patients must be 50 or over, not have a family history of colon cancer, not be on blood thinners or have a history of bleeding disorders, not have a history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, have never been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, and not have experienced chest pains or a heart attack within the past 12 months.  

“Colonoscopy saves lives, and is now, with the Direct Access Program, easier and more convenient to do than ever,” says Dr. Skole.

For more information or to find a gastroenterologist with Penn Medicine Princeton Health, call 1.888.742.7496 or visit www.princetonhcs.org/digestivehealth.

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