Scoping out colon cancer

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States behind lung cancer. Fortunately, it is also one of the most preventable and curable cancers.

"A colonoscopy is an exam that could save your life. It offers the best opportunity for doctors to detect colon cancer or polyps (precancerous growths) in its early, more treatable stage," explains Ann Cooke, licensed practical nurse at Gundersen Tri-County Hospital and Clinics.

According to Cooke, people at the greatest risk of developing colon cancer include those:

  • With family history of polyps or colon cancer
  • Who are 50 years old or older
  • With a history of polyps
  • With a history of Crohn's disease or Lynch syndrome

Cooke and her colleagues at Gundersen Tri-County suggest that patients receive their first colonoscopy at age 50, and follow the specialist's recommendations on follow up care after the colonoscopy. Patients can receive their colonoscopy close to home at Gundersen Tri-County in Whitehall by a Gundersen specialist.

"Nobody looks forward to a colonoscopy, but it can prevent much worse things down the road," Cooke says. "If you ask someone who's had a colonoscopy, they'll probably tell you ‘it's not so bad.'"

Lower your risk

While you can't control your family history, there are steps you can take to decrease your chance of developing colon cancer. "Besides regular screenings, it is important to eat a healthy diet consisting of plenty of fiber," recommends Cooke. "You should also get at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day, and discuss with your primary care provider when you should be screened, especially if family members have had polyps removed."

Knowing the signs

It is also important to know the symptoms of colon cancer. Cooke encourages you to contact your primary care provider if you or a family member experience:

  • Rectal bleeding.
  • Change in bowel habits – prolonged diarrhea or constipation.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Any new gastrointestinal-related issues.

Also if you have a history of polyps and develop abdominal pain or changes in your daily routine of bowel habits, see your primary care provider as soon as possible to determine what care is needed.

For more information, contact your primary care provider or the Gundersen clinic nearest you.

Specialty care close to home

In addition to offering colonoscopies, gastroenterologists (digestive health specialists) from Gundersen Health System are available at Gundersen Tri-County Whitehall Clinic. These providers care for patients suffering from conditions related to the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon, pancreas and liver.

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