Champaign, Ill. (WCIA)

Early screening for colon cancer improves outcomes and it is even more important now as early onset of colon cancer is becoming more prevalent in younger patients. March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month and today we are fortunate to have an expert with us from Carle Foundation Hospital. Dr. Robert Yu is the Associate Medical Director for Colorectal Surgery & Digestive Health Institute and the Medical Director of the Nationally Accredited Program for Rectal Cancer at Carle Health.

First, let’s tell people exactly why we have a colon and what are risk factors for developing colorectal cancer?
• The colon is part of the digestive system and removes water and some nutrients from partially digested food. The remaining solid waste, called stool, moves into the rectum and leaves the body through the anus.
• Colon cancer is the 3rd most common cancer in the US.
• There are several potential risk factors which can be grouped as those that are modifiable and non-modifiable.
• The non-modifiable risk factors are those that are genetically inherited, increasing age, or from other inflammatory conditions like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
• The modifiable risk factors include: a diet high in fat, red meat or processed foods, obesity, tobacco and alcohol consumption

Why is the incidence of colon cancer increasing in young people?
• Colorectal cancer is traditionally thought of as a disease that mainly affects older adults, but recent studies have shown an increase in the incidence of it in younger people.
• While the exact reasons are not entirely clear, several potential factors that may contribute are the same that we already talked about earlier like unhealthy lifestyle decisions and delayed screening.
• It is important to remember that while the rates of colorectal cancer are increasing in younger individuals, that type of cancer is still relatively rare compared to older adults, so it is important for everyone to be aware of their own risk factors and to discuss screening options with their healthcare provider.

Why is screening for colon cancer so important?
• Colon cancer may not create symptoms until it’s advanced, which can be frightening.
• When it does cause symptoms, people often experience blood in their stool, fatigue, weakness, weight loss, changes in their stool (whether it is constipation, diarrhea or narrowed stools).
• Screening is important because it can help detect the disease early, when it is most treatable, and before it spreads to other parts of the body.

What are some of the options for screening?
• There are several screening tests available including stool-based tests and visual exams of the colon such as a colonoscopy.

What does a colonoscopy prep and procedure look like?
• Colonoscopy is a procedure that allows a provider to examine the inside of the colon using a long, flexible tube with a camera on the end.
• In order to prepare for the procedure, patients need to go through a prep, which includes fasting a day before the procedure and taking medications like laxatives to help flush out the bowels.
• The following day, the hard work is done and patients are given a sedative and pain medication to help them relax and minimize any discomfort.
• Once an abnormality like a polyp or growths of the colon are found, a provider may remove it during the procedure.
• The procedure itself takes about 30 minutes. The patient recovers and is allowed to go home.

What do you say to a patient who is afraid to go through the process?
• It is definitely understandable to feel anxious about any medical procedure and a colonoscopy is no exception.
• When someone expresses anxiety or fear about getting a colonoscopy, I explain to them that the medications we give them during the exam keep them comfortable throughout the procedure.
• Overall, the exam is low risk and has very few complications.
• More importantly, it can save your life.
• If the fear is overwhelming, I offer them alternative screening options like stool-based exams or CT scans, however, if there are abnormal results, a colonoscopy would be needed.

Should cancer be found in the rectum (the last 10 inches of the colon leading to the anus), patients in East Central Illinois can take comfort in knowing that Carle Foundation Hospital is a nationally accredited rectal cancer program that provides specialized treatment of colorectal cancers. To learn more about the Digestive Health Institute at Carle Foundation Hospital and colon cancer, go to