Parkridge Health System March 06, 2017

Shauna Lorenzo-Rivero, M.D., FACS, colorectal and general surgeon with University Surgical Associates

Preventive screening for colorectal cancer can make all the difference.

"Colonoscopies save lives," said Shauna Lorenzo-Rivero, M.D., FACS, a colorectal and general surgeon with University Surgical Associates, who performs a wide array of colorectal surgeries at Parkridge Medical Center. "Tell everyone you know to get their first colonoscopy at age 50 and don't ignore any symptoms you may experience."

Dr. Lorenzo-Rivero emphasizes the importance of colonoscopy because, although colorectal cancer is the third most common type of non-skin cancer in both men and women - and highly treatable when found in its earliest stages - many adults do not know why colonoscopies are critically important.

Colorectal cancer often begins as a polyp, a flat or raised growth on the inner tissue of the colon or rectum. People commonly develop polyps after the age of 50, and while most are not cancerous, a specific kind of polyp - an adenoma - poses a higher risk of turning into cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Colonoscopy is the most effective screening tool for precancerous and cancerous polyps because physicians can see polyps growing in the colon and remove them. Other screening methods, such as fecal occult blood tests, stool DNA tests and barium enemas can identify cancer - but patients still need a colonoscopy to have polyps removed.

"I personally like to go straight for the colonoscopy because I can fix the problem then and there," Dr. Lorenzo-Rivero said.

The Importance of Early Detection

Colonoscopies can reduce the chance of death from colon cancer by as much as 70 percent, according to an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine. To receive the full benefit from the screening method, people need to know about it.

Dr. Lorenzo-Rivero noted that, despite the South - and particularly Chattanooga - having higher rates of colorectal cancer than the rest of the United States, knowledge of effective screening methods in the city is relatively low.

"Colon cancer would almost be 100 percent preventable if everyone had colonoscopies when they were supposed to and had polyps removed," Dr. Lorenzo-Rivero said. "But, in general, people do not get colonoscopies because they do not know when they need to get them. The best thing for a patient to do is to know when he or she needs to be screened for various cancers and go to his or her primary care provider with that knowledge."

Primary care providers will refer patients to appropriate specialist, such as Dr. Lorenzo-Rivero, who will perform the procedure.

Early detection can make a tremendous difference in the course of a cancer diagnosis, Dr. Lorenzo-Rivero noted. In its earliest stages, colorectal cancer that is limited to the colon and has not spread to any other organ in the body can be effectively treated with surgery alone. Such procedures can often be performed through minimally invasive or robot-assisted methods that require small incisions and allow patients to return home one to two days after the procedure.

When found in later stages, colorectal cancer may have infiltrated the colon, invaded the lymph nodes and spread to other organs. In addition to surgery, patients with later-stage colorectal cancer may also undergo radiation and preoperative chemotherapy regimens. Such treatment takes about one year to complete, Dr. Lorenzo-Rivero noted. On the other hand, colonoscopies require one day of bowel prep and one day for the procedure.

Don't let colorectal cancer sneak up on you. Discuss your family history to identify genetic risk factors and know when you need to get a colonoscopy.

Time to schedule your colonoscopy? Call Medline, at (800) 242-5662, for a free referral to a Parkridge Health System gastroenterologist.