Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause for cancer related deaths in the United States, and March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. During this month, we are reminded that receiving regular cancer screening even while you have no signs or symptoms of disease in an important step in saving lives.
Vincent Obias, MD, chief of the Division of Colon and Rectal Surgery at the George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates, discusses colorectal cancer, prevention, and how his team at GW helps treat patients with a colorectal cancer diagnosis.
Q: What is colorectal cancer?
Obias: Commonly, colon cancer starts from a polyp (an abnormal growth of tissue) in the colon that grows over time and eventually turns into a cancer that can invade to other parts of the body.
Q: What are the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer?
Obias: There are few early signs of colon cancer, but some signs include blood in your stool (where you can actually see blood in the toilet bowl or when you wipe, or your stool can look very dark), unexplained weight loss, and, occasionally, abdominal pain.
Q: How common is it? Who is most at risk for colorectal cancer?
Obias: Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause for cancer related death in America and the third most common cancer in men and women in America. The rate of new colon and rectal cancer is highest among African Americans. Second is whites followed closely by Hispanics and Asian Americans. Your risk is also increased if you have family members who have had colon cancer, specifically your mother or father or any of your siblings. Certain disease entities can increase your risk for colon cancer, like ulcerative colitis.
Q: How can colorectal cancer be prevented?
Obias: Colorectal cancer can be prevented by appropriate screening for colon cancer. If you are at higher risk, you should have colorectal cancer screening earlier in life rather than starting at age 45.
Q: What are the screening options for colorectal cancer?
Obias: We recommend screening for colorectal cancer starting at age 45. Various options include the gold standard of a colonoscopy. But newer modalities such as Cologuard, which uses DNA analysis of a patient’s stool sample, is also available and can be an option. Please check with your primary care doctor to determine which is best for you.
Q: What are the colorectal cancer treatment options?
Obias: If you do have colon cancer, there are many treatment options. At GW, we were the first to use the Intuitive Robotic Surgical system to treat colon and rectal cancer in the Washington, D.C. area and we have the most experience with the system. GW also was the first hospital in
the world to use the Medrobotics Flex robot to treat early rectal cancers and polyps. There are also new important chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatments that can be utilized in the appropriate patient and we have expert specialists in both fields.
Q: How does GW educate patients on their colon cancer diagnosis?
Obias: Here at GW, we are the first to utilize Surgical Theater, a virtual reality technology, to show the patient their own cancer and to help educate them on their diagnosis and overall treatment plan.
If you are concerned that symptoms you are experiencing may be caused by cancer, make an appointment to see one of our GW Colon and Rectal Surgery providers.