Enhanced technology and a stronger emphasis on screening is helping LCMC Health physicians better prevent, detect, and treat colorectal cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 107,000 new cases of colon cancer and more than 46,000 new cases of rectal cancer are projected to be diagnosed in 2023, making colorectal cancer the third most common cancer type in the United States, excluding skin cancers. While the overall incidence rates have dropped slightly each year over the past decade, the rates have been increasing in people younger than 55 since the mid-1990s.
“A few years ago, studies began to observe an increase in colorectal cancers among people in their late 40s, around 48 or 49 years old. Most recently, based on studies published in early 2023, we’ve seen an increase in rates among people starting younger than 55,” said Dr. Scott Pollack, who specializes in gastroenterology at LCMC Health. “There may be some slight differences in terms of people with certain ethnicities having higher incidence rates, but those differences are not significant enough to change our current guidelines or make us say one population is more at risk than another.”
Dr. Pollack said that because of the recent trends, health guidelines now recommend people receive colorectal cancer screenings beginning at age 45, rather than the previous recommendation of age 50.
One screening option is to offer the ability for individuals to conduct at-home screenings by providing a stool sample that is then shipped off and analyzed, mostly to detect a protein that is known to be present in colon cancer patients. However, Dr. Pollack said a colonoscopy conducted by a physician and medical staff is the best option for people to get accurate and timely results.
“A colonoscopy is more involved, and the patient does undergo sedation, but this allows us to see the entire colon from the inside. It has a much higher sensitivity and specificity than any other type of screening test,” Dr. Pollack said. “Our goal is to discover any colon polyps that may be present. These are asymptomatic, so patients don’t know they have these polyps until they are discovered. If we find polyps, we almost always can remove them at the same time the patient is undergoing the colonoscopy, so the treatment and prevention begins right away.”
At West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, doctors are now using new software that enables them to get more detailed imaging during a colonoscopy. Dr. Pollack said the software, which utilizes AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology, is highly sensitive and can detect even subtle details and changes that may be difficult to discern with the human eye.
“It’s an extra set of eyes on the screen in addition to the professionals in the room who are watching,” Dr. Pollack said. “Any time you can have a more detailed look, it’s a benefit to the patients and treatment team.”
Some of the most common symptoms of colorectal cancers include visible blood in the stool, changes in bowel movement patterns, abdominal pain and unexplained weight loss. However, Dr. Pollack noted that the cancer can often be more advanced once a person begins experiencing symptoms, which makes routine/timely screenings even more important.
“If you are 45 or older, you should have a colonoscopy, no matter your race, gender, or symptom history,” Dr. Pollack said. “If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, you may even need to get screened earlier. The procedure is easier than you might think it is. And, if you have any symptoms, talk to your doctor right away because you might need further testing.”
LCMC Health treats all forms of colorectal cancer and offers multiple support services for patients and their families. For more information, visit https://www.lcmchealth.org/our-services/cancer-care/.