Bhavik Bhandari, MD, gastroenterologist at Bergen Medical Associates, shares why ‘45 is the new 50’ (and other important facts) when it comes to screening for colon cancer
March is Colorectal Cancer Screening Awareness Month — but the fact is, every month is a great time to capitalize on the power of colonoscopies and other screening tools to help prevent colon cancer.
Following, Bhavik Bhandari, MD, gastroenterologist at Bergen Medical Associates, with six offices throughout Bergen County, shares important facts about colorectal cancer and why screening represents the best and most effective way to prevent the development or progression of the disease.
- Colorectal Cancer is Common — and Preventable — According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer among men and women and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. “Colorectal cancer encompasses two different regions — the colon and the rectum,” explained Dr. Bhandari. “While people over 50 used to be in the highest-risk category for colon cancer, we now see heightened risk occurring in people over 40.” Risk factors for colon cancer that are outside of our control include age and a family history of the disease, especially within a first-order relative. “However, risk factors within our control include smoking, excessive consumption of alcohol or red meat, obesity and inactivity (a sedentary lifestyle),” said Dr. Bhandari, who noted that African Americans are at higher risk of colon cancer than other races. The good news? “Colon cancer is a slower-growing cancer, which gives us time to identify issues before they become truly problematic,” he said. “And the disease is almost fully preventable.”
- Screening Saves Lives — “Screening is important because data over the years confirms that mortality from colon cancer has gone down significantly among patients who have gotten screened,” Dr. Bhandari said. “Most patients with colon cancer don’t have any symptoms, especially in early stages. By the time patients do have symptoms (which can include abdominal pain, changes in bowel habits, weight loss, blood in the stool and anemia), we typically find colon cancer at a later stage than among those who are asymptomatic and whose disease was detected early through screening.”
- “45 is the New 50” — As recommended by the American Cancer Society three years ago and subsequently adopted by many other respected agencies, “everybody of average risk should start colon cancer screenings at age 45, making ‘45 the new 50’ for people of average risk,” Dr. Bhandari said. “Those at higher risk should get screened at a younger age.”
- Colonoscopies Are the ‘Gold Standard’ of Screening — While popular at-home colon cancer screening tests look for DNA markers in stool that may indicate colon cancer after it’s developed, “The colonoscopy is an all-encompassing, gold standard test which will hopefully prevent you from getting cancer for your whole life,” Dr. Bhandari said. At the start of a colonoscopy, patients are given medication so that they don’t feel anything; a doctor will then insert a flexible tube into the colon to look for the presence of abnormal tissue growth. “Before colon cancer is cancer, it starts as a polyp, and, once identified during the colonoscopy, can be eradicated right then and there and prevented from developing into cancer altogether,” he said. “Colonoscopies don’t need to be done that frequently — only every five to 10 years for those with average risk and normal results. Colonoscopies represent a powerful means of prevention as well as a great management tool because we can remove anything we see so that it never develops into colon cancer.”
- It’s Not Your Grandfather’s Colonoscopy Anymore — While many people are put off by colonoscopies because they historically involved longer procedures and foul-tasting prep drinks, Dr. Bhandari confirmed that times have changed — for the better. “Among other things, our camera technology has advanced, CO2 is used during today’s procedure to minimize patient discomfort, and patients now drink a far tastier, Gatorade-based prep the evening before,” he said. “In addition, people don’t have to take off from work the day before the procedure; they can work a normal day and drink the solution that evening. The whole procedure itself takes 25 minutes and patients are in and out of the facility within two to three hours.
“Overall, people shouldn’t be afraid of a colonoscopy — it’s not the same procedure as it was in the past and it’s incredibly effective at saving lives,” Dr. Bhandari confirmed. “Everybody should get a colonoscopy according to the recommended age and risk guidelines because it’s the most potent tool we have to prevent disease, suffering and death from colorectal cancer.”
For More Information
With offices in Emerson, Paramus (2), Ridgewood, Northvale and Montvale, Bergen Medical Associates offers primary care and 12 areas of specialized care. Patients enjoy the “one-stop shopping” approach where so many medical services are provided under one umbrella. The multi-specialty group fosters an environment of collaboration among the physicians, which results in a seamless continuum of care for patients. For more information, visit bergenmed.com or call 201-967-8221.