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The Colon Cancer Challenge: Increasing Screening Can Save Lives

Colon cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and women in South Carolina. This year, about 2,200 people will receive a colon cancer diagnosis in our state and 800 people in South Carolina will die from the disease.
But it’s also one of the most preventable forms of cancer – and treatable when detected early. Unfortunately, only 64 percent of the people in our state age 50 or older report ever being screened.

The best tool to screen for colon cancer is a colonoscopy, which is considered one of the most powerful tools in clinical medicine because of its ability to identify and remove polyps before they become cancerous. Early detection and intervention can reduce mortality from colon cancer by up to 90 percent.

In general, people should have a colonoscopy at age 50. Patients with a family history of colon cancer should talk to their doctor and begin screening earlier. Sometimes, colon cancer may not cause symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may be bleeding, abdominal pain or a change in bowel habits. People with those symptoms should talk to their doctor, regardless of age.

Dr. Samir Shah

“Don’t delay having a colonoscopy,” said Samir R. Shah, MD, a surgeon with Lexington Surgical Associates, a Lexington Medical Center physician practice, who has special training in colon and rectal surgery. “It’s a painless procedure, and it’s better to be checked than to ignore an issue that could have been preventable and, most importantly, curable.”
While genetics may play a role in some colon cancer cases, most occur in someone with no family history of the disease. Factors that increase the risk of developing colon cancer include tobacco and heavy alcohol use, consumption of red or processed meat, diabetes, obesity and a low-fiber diet.

Dr. Marc Antonetti

“The incidence of colon cancer is higher for men than women, especially African-American men,” said Mark C. Antonetti, MD, FACS, at Riverside Surgical Group, a Lexington Medical Center physician practice. “It also occurs more frequently in communities with high rates of obesity and diabetes. And unfortunately, South Carolina usually ranks as one of the top 10 states in the country for these risk factors.”

Surgical treatment for colon cancer has improved over the years. It used to be that patients had a large abdominal incision, spent a week in the hospital and endured months of recovery. Now, doctors can perform the surgery with laparoscopic or robotic techniques, allowing patients to recover faster, experience less pain and go home from the hospital within two to three days.

“In many cases, surgical removal of the tumor cures the disease and no further treatment is required,” said Jeffrey S. Libbey, MD, FACS, of Southern Surgical Group, a Lexington Medical Center physician practice. Dr. Libbey is fellowship trained in minimally invasive surgery and has performed 2,000 laparoscopic colon surgeries at Lexington Medical Center. “Some patients may require chemotherapy and radiation. The multidisciplinary cancer team at our hospital, which includes surgeons and oncologists, works together to determine the best course of action for each individual patient.”

Colon cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers at Lexington Medical Center, with doctors diagnosing 134 cases in 2015. Because of Lexington Medical Center’s affiliation with Duke Health, patients are connected to the latest treatments, technologies, preventive therapies and diagnostic techniques.

At Lexington Medical Cancer Center, clinicians fight cancer with patients and for patients.

To learn more about cancer services at Lexington Medical Center, visit LexMed.com/Cancer.