Hot Topic: Colon Health
The American Cancer Society estimated that approximately 102,900 new cases of colon cancer were diagnosed last year. Because colon cancer is such a prevalent concern, it’s more important than ever to learn the ins and outs of promoting colon health. Sheridan Road sat down with Dr. Laura Bianchi, NorthShore University HealthSystem board-certified gastroenterologist, to find out more about colon cancer and colon cancer screening.
Q&A with Dr. Bianchi
What are some of the common issues you speak with your patients about?
One of the big issues we talk about is that colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths among Americans, and it’s not just a man’s disease. A lot of women in their 40s and 50s have menopause and breast cancer on their radar, but not usually colon cancer. [Yet] the lifetime risk for developing colon cancer is somewhere between 5 and 6 percent. So, that is the main focus of our clinic—identifying people who could be educated further about their risk.
The other concept that we try to impress upon our patients is that there are differences in how colon cancer and colon polyps behave in men and women, which is something that has really only come to light in recent years. For instance, women develop colon cancer at a later age than men. Women are also more likely to have colon cancer in the right side of their colon, they usually have fewer colon polyps than men, and a colonoscopy itself appears to be less protective against colon cancer in women. The interpretation of all of this is that maybe the “one-size-fits-all” guideline for colon cancer screening isn’t necessarily the best scenario. And, as our research and data evolves, we may need to modify some of those recommendations, taking into account gender differences.
What implications does colon cancer have for women, specifically?
We know that women not only biologically behave differently in terms of colon cancer and polyps, but also they have a different response to the concept of colonoscopy; it has some different psychosocial implications for women because it tends to make them a little more anxious than men. We know that women have more pre-procedure anxiety; they want to know more details about the preparation and procedure. So, big barriers preceding the procedure sometimes include embarrassment about the procedure, or questions such as, “Will I be uncomfortable?” or “Will I be awake?” We invite anyone who has questions or concerns about the procedure to talk to me and my nurse, and we run through with them what the process will entail, and address the parts that are concerning to the patient.
How have the risks for colon cancer been changing in recent years?
Colon cancer rates are decreasing with the use of colonoscopy, but we’re finding an increase in the rate of colorectal cancer in young individuals (49 and younger)—and all of the research is pointing to the obesity epidemic. This is where we feel that we can intervene. Let’s not meet somebody at 55 who needs their first colonoscopy; let’s meet them at 30, when we can discuss their modifiable risk factors, including obesity, and try to change the course of things in order to prevent this disease. Studies will show that perhaps over half of colon cancer risk is lifestyle issues, which include tobacco use, alcohol use, dietary habits (a diet low in fiber, fruits, and vegetables and high in processed foods is associated with a high risk of not only colon cancer, but a variety of other cancers), obesity, and lack of physical activity. The American Cancer Society recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise on five or more days each week, and they’ve shown, in various studies, that patients can reduce their risk of colon cancer by up to 33 percent just by incorporating physical activity.
Take Charge: Prevention and Treatment
Using an integrated approach to colon cancer prevention and treatment, Dr. Bianchi has established two effective NorthShore programs to put you on the path to better colon health:
Women’s Gastrointestinal Cancer Risk and Prevention Program, Evanston Hospital
Patients meet and closely interact with a team of all female gastroenterologists, registered dieticians, and nurses. The program also includes music therapy and aromatherapy to ease pre-colonoscopy anxiety. To schedule an appointment, call 847-657-1900 and press 5.
Multidisciplinary High-Risk Colorectal Cancer Clinic, Glenbrook Hospital
Created specifically for patients who have a history of numerous colon polyps, an inherited colon cancer predisposition syndrome, a personal or family history of colorectal cancer, or who have been newly diagnosed with colorectal cancer. In one appointment, patients interact with a variety of specialists. To schedule an appointment, call 847-657-1900 and press 6.