Colorectal Cancer

June 29, 2014

Penn Highlands Healthcare
For release: June 29, 2014

Thinking about having cancer can be scary. Getting screened is sometimes a challenge, but we know it must be done – especially when we hit a certain age or have a family member who has had cancer.

But when the focus is on colorectal cancer, it can increase our anxiety ten-fold because most of us are private people.

Colorectal cancer is the second deadliest cancer in the United States. Both men and women are susceptible, and its risk increases with age from your 50th birthday on.

Colorectal cancer occurs in the colon or rectum and is sometimes called colon cancer. The colon is the large intestine or large bowel. The rectum is the passageway that connects the colon to the anus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, if everyone aged 50 years or older had regular screening tests, at least 60 percent of deaths from this cancer could be avoided. And there are those who are under age 50 with risk factors who may not know they may need one sooner to save their lives.

That is why Penn Highlands Healthcare is hosting awareness times for anyone to ask questions. Lori Rancik, RN and case manager of the Women’s Health Center of Penn Highlands Healthcare, will be available:
From 6:30-8 a.m., Monday, July 7, at the DuBois YMCA, Parkway Drive, DuBois;
From 1-3 p.m., Wednesday, July 9, at Penn Highlands Clearfield offices, Peebles Plaza, 1049 N. 
Front St., Philipsburg;
From 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Thursday, July 10, at the Brookville YMCA, Main Street, Brookville;
From 10 a.m. to noon, Monday, July 14, in the lobby of Penn Highlands Elk, 763 Johnsonburg Road, 
St. Marys;
From 10:15 a.m. to noon, Thursday, July 24, at the Joseph and Elizabeth Shaw Library, 1 S. 
Front St., Clearfield;
From 10:30 a.m. to noon, Friday, July 25, at the DuBois Mall, Shaffer Road, DuBois.

Rancik will have information on risks, healthy lifestyles and the doctors that can provide screenings. She can offer guidance about what to do and how screenings are done.

Colorectal cancer usually starts from polyps in the colon or rectum. A polyp is a mushroom-like growth that shouldn’t be there. Over time, some polyps can turn into cancer. During a screening, any polyps found are removed before they can turn into cancer. If the polyps are already cancerous, screenings can find it early and increase the chances of the person being cured.

How is someone screened? It’s simple. A doctor – usually a surgeon or gastroenterologist – uses a very thin scope to look at the inside of the rectum and bowels, and the doctor can remove polyps as they are found.  “The nerves in the intestines are different from the skin and can be pinched and you never feel them,” Dr. Daniel Perri, general surgeon at Penn Highlands Brookville, said. “It is a painless procedure. It can prevent a huge operation later. If left to grow, it (a cancerous polyp) can metastasize and will take a major operation and many hospitalizations after that instead of one simple in-and-out procedure such as a colonoscopy.”

Some people may also shy away from the test because of the preparation for the test which includes cleaning out the bowels before you come in. Or it could be that people are shy about the location of the test on their bodies. 

“Getting a colonoscopy can save your life,” Dr. K.C. Joseph, chief of surgery at Penn Highlands Elk, said. “Taking the time to have the test today is worth a little discomfort if it means being here for your family and friends tomorrow.”

“People who have colonoscopies always state it is much easier than they had anticipated,” Dr. Rajat Malik, gastroenterologist at Penn Highlands Clearfield, said. “The only complaint that I hear occasionally is about drinking the full prep. With the new split prep used, it is now better.” A split prep allows a patient to drink the laxative the night before and in the morning instead of in one evening. 

Penn Highlands Healthcare believes in following the American Cancer Society recommendations for colorectal cancer and its early detection, according to Dr. Richard Latuska, gastroenterologist at Penn Highlands DuBois. “People should begin getting colonoscopies at age 50 and younger if there is a family history of colon cancer,” Malik said. 

It is a risk for a person when a close relative who has had colon cancer. Other risks include having inflammatory bowel disease; certain hereditary conditions, such as familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer; or a past personal history of cancer of the colon, rectum, ovary, endometrium or breast. “Or perhaps you have had polyps removed before,” Rancik said. “That’s another risk, as more could grow.”

“People at high risk for colorectal cancer may need earlier or more frequent tests than others,” Joseph said. “Talk to your primary care physician about when to begin screening and how often you should be tested.”

“Nobody knows if they have a polyp,” Perri said, “until it turns into cancer and it shows microscopic blood in stool samples or someone becomes anemic. In the first 5-7 years (in a person who has undetected colorectal cancer), there are no symptoms.”

When symptoms other than blood in one’s stool show up, they can include stomach pains, aches or cramps; unexplainable weight loss; diarrhea, constipation or the feeling that the bowel does not empty all the way; stools that are narrower than usual; frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness or cramps; feeling very tired; or sometimes, vomiting.

“Ignoring the issue won’t make it go away,” Rancik said. “Learning more could make a difference in your life.”