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Colorectal cancer is preventable, treatable, and beatable

Colorectal cancer is preventable, treatable, and beatable

March 12, 2012

SPRINGFIELD – In a recent promotion on CBS television, Sharon Osbourne is seen asking her husband if he has a secret fantasy. “Yes, I want to fly to New York to get a colonoscopy,” answers rock legend Ozzy Osbourne, referring to the television network’s Colonoscopy Sweepstakes.


It’s all part of the celebrity couple’s efforts to get the word out about the importance of screening. Sharon Osbourne fought her own courageous and successful battle against colon cancer. Colon and rectal cancer, which is equally common in men and women, is one of the most easily prevented cancers with regular screening.


March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and many healthcare organizations around the country are collaborating to raise year-round awareness about screening for the nation’s second leading cause of death for both men and women, second only to lung cancer.


“Finding cases of colorectal cancer early can dramatically improve your chances for successful treatment,” said Dr. Wilson Mertens, medical director, Cancer Services, at Baystate Medical Center and its Baystate Regional Cancer Program.


According to Dr. Mertens, most colon cancers develop from polyps, which are precancerous growths in the colon and rectum. But there are many other factors that can lead to colorectal cancer. Among the risk factors for colorectal cancer are: age, older than 50, a family history of colorectal cancer or colon polyps, a personal history of intestinal polyps or inflammatory bowel disease, a diet high in red and processed meats, obesity, smoking, type 2 diabetes, heavy alcohol use, and physical inactivity.


“You can reduce your risk of colorectal cancer by following a healthy diet and exercise regularly,” said Dr. Mertens. “Although the medical evidence is not as strong as we would like, it seems prudent to eat a low-fat diet that is rich in plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole grain foods.”


Persons with the following symptoms should check with their doctor: a change in bowel habits such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days; a feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved when you do; or rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, cramping or steady abdominal pain, decrease in appetite, weakness or fatigue, jaundice.


“Having one or all of these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have colorectal cancer. Infections, hemorrhoids, and inflammatory bowel disease may be the cause of your symptoms, but only your doctor can determine the answer,” said

Dr. Mertens. Regular screenings, however, are necessary to help prevent colorectal cancer which can present with no symptoms.


According to Dr. David Desilets, chief of Gastroenterology at Baystate Medical Center, colorectal cancer is one of the most easily prevented cancers.


“Your primary care physician can assess your colon cancer risk and advise when to begin screening. Average risk individuals generally start after 50, however, if patients have a strong family history of bowel cancer they should consider starting screening earlier,” said Dr. Desilets.


Among the different screening strategies recommended are: yearly fecal occult blood test, flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, a barium enema every 5-10 years, and a colonoscopy every 10 years.


A colonoscopy is a 20-minute procedure which examines the entire colon. Contrary to popular belief, although there is sometimes discomfort involved, a colonoscopy is generally not a painful procedure, Dr. Desilets noted. Patients are given medication to relax and many even fall asleep not waking up until the procedure is over.


“It is important to consult your physician. They can provide you with the strengths

and weaknesses of each strategy and help decide which is best for you,” said
Dr. Desilets.


According to Dr. Kelly M. Tyler, Division of Colon and Rectal Surgery, Baystate Medical Center, surgery for colon cancer is much more manageable than one might imagine.


“People often have a fear of the unknown and a fear of having to endure invasive procedures and treatments for colon cancer. Because of major advances in technology, we can often offer patients surgery for colon and rectal cancer with minimally invasive techniques which allow for smaller incisions and improved recovery. Even patients who may require more extensive surgery are experiencing improved outcomes and survival from colon cancer with adequate medical and surgical treatment,” said Dr. Tyler.


For more information on colorectal surgery at Baystate Medical Center, visit and click on Surgery under the Services tab; for more information on Baystate Gastroenterology and colonoscopy, visit and click on Gastroenterology under the Services tab; and for more information on the Baystate Regional Cancer Program, visit