St. Clair Health: Screening for colorectal cancer

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. In the United States, colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths, causing more than 50,000 annually.

The American Cancer Society’s newest guidelines recommend colorectal screenings beginning at age 45. Most insurance carriers began covering colonoscopies for patients age 45 and older beginning in January of this year.

For Scott A. Holekamp, M.D., a colorectal surgeon at St. Clair Health, finding colorectal cancer early is the key to successful treatment. “Preventive screening allows us to both find and remove precancerous polyps and even small colorectal cancers,” he says. “It’s incredibly important to find it early because the cure rate is so much higher and the treatment options are less complex than if a patient has an advanced form of colorectal cancer or if it’s spread elsewhere in the body.”

A few of the common colorectal cancer symptoms within the general population include:

  • Unexplained or unintentional weight loss
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Blood in the stool
  • Bloating
  • Anemia

Additionally, St. Clair Health physicians have more recently identified younger patients (those under age 50) presenting with abdominal pain as another key indicator that should lead directly to colorectal screening.

“Many generally healthy patients don’t have ANY symptoms—and that’s really who this new screening age is for. The reason the guidelines are moving to a younger age is because we’re seeing younger patients with colorectal cancer—and we want to find the polyps before they become cancerous,” Dr. Holekamp says.

The colonoscopy is the gold standard for colorectal screening, and something Dr. Holekamp understands intimately based on his own personal history. “When I was 37, I saw some blood in my stool and wasn’t messing around. It prompted me to get a colonoscopy ahead of schedule,” he says.

“Let me put it more bluntly: you want us to find these polyps during a preventative screening long before you need me for major surgery.”

To contact Dr. Holekamp, please call 412-572-6192.