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Dreaded by many, colonoscopy saves lives

March 06, 2013

Media Contact: Keith.O’, 413-794-7656


SPRINGFIELD – It’s a lifesaver. But no one likes to talk about it - colonoscopy.


The truth is that colorectal cancer screening saves lives. If everyone 50 years or older were screened regularly, some 60% of deaths from this cancer could be avoided.


“Finding 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. He noted most colon cancers develop from polyps - precancerous growths in the colon and rectum.


March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and healthcare organizations around the country are collaborating to raise awareness about screening colonoscopy for the nation’s second leading cause of death for both men and women.


Colonoscopy, only a 20-minute procedure, is one of the most dreaded screenings by many people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only about two-thirds of those age 50-75, the target range for screening, have mustered up the courage to schedule the important screening.


“People are afraid because they perceive the procedure as invasive and painful, which is typically not true, and most patients report that their worse experience was drinking the bowel preparation the night before the exam,” said Dr. Rony Ghaoui, director of Endoscopy in the Gastroenterology Division at Baystate Medical Center. He noted patients are given medication to relax and many even fall asleep not waking up until the procedure is over.


“Also, many people use the fact that they ‘feel fine’ as an excuse to avoid the procedure. And, they may feel fine, but most polyps are asymptomatic and do not cause any pain or abdominal comfort,” he added.


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; 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 doesn’t 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.


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. 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.


Among the risk factors include 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.


According to Dr. Kelly M. Tyler, director of Colorectal 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 colonoscopy and colorectal surgery at Baystate Medical Center, visit