TRINITY — Perhaps colorectal cancer might not come up as the first topic for conversation at the dinner table. The subject might even serve as the butt of jokes sometimes.
Yet colon and rectal surgeon Jared Frattini and oncologist Uday Dandamudi of Medical Center of Trinity emphasize that early detection is vital to stopping the cancer in its initial stages.
Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March is dedicated toward educating people not to ignore the disease until it advances to the incurable stage.
Both doctors stress that most people should get tested when they hit age 50 and then each year after that point.
Health professionals might sometimes use a little levity to relax people during awareness month, the doctors said, urging them to “Protect Your Bottom Line” and “Don’t Fear the Rear.”
All kidding aside, doctors explain colorectal cancer has four stages, from the relatively easily treatable first stage, chemotherapy by stage three to the incurable fourth stage. Colonoscopy can detect problems from polyps.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States for both men and women combined. This year, approximately 140,000 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed and 56,000 people will die from the disease.
Big changes in treatment have taken place the last 10 years, Dandamudi explained. A multidisciplinary approach can utilize options including gastroenterology, radiology and surgery, Dandamudi added
A tumor board meets weekly to discuss cases, Frattini noted. Blood in the stool or abdominal pain usually are sure clues to pursue treatment.
Even those patients who have advanced to the incurable stage four can now expect to live longer, thanks to advancements, Dandamudi said.
Surgery techniques for colorectal cancer have changed to include laparoscopic or robotic methods, Frattini noted. Hospitals stays have shortened to about two to three days, he said, instead of five to seven days in the past. Incisions are about half as long in surgeries now.
“It’s not just a hemorrhoid,” Frattini said about some patients who indulged in some wishful thinking about early signs of colon cancer.
Delays could result in multiple treatments instead of a single option, Dandamudi emphasized about patients who ignore symptoms.
While most should seek diagnosis by age 50, those with a family history of colon cancer should consult doctors by age 40, Dandamudi recommended.
While the prevalence of colorectal cancer has decreased for patients ages 50 and older, the disease is increasing among the 20-49 age group, Frattini noted. Diet and sedentary lifestyles are the most likely factors to blame.
Frattini recommends a low-fat, high-fiber diet to help lower risks.
Procedures have become simpler, both doctors agreed. Localized anesthesiology often is used now in colonoscopies, Dandamudi noted. In outpatient procedures, a patient might be able to go home in two to three hours.
The at-home colon cleansing before a procedure might be the only difficult part that remains for patients, Dandamudi observed. A patient now might have to drink as little as half a gallon of unpleasant-tasting liquid the night before a procedure, Frattini said, rather than a gallon of fluid as in the past.
Pasco’s colorectal cancer age-adjusted death rate for 2010-2012 puts Pasco (15.7) above the state rate (14.1), according to Pasco Health Department records.
But the incidence rate in Pasco has fallen from 1,195 a few decades ago to about 800 in the latest statistics through 2010.