QMG Gastroenterologist Kartikeya Tripathi, MD

Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women. Despite its prevalence, the disease and its associated health concerns can be uncomfortable to talk about. However, it’s an important conversation to have. We did just that with Quincy Medical Group Gastroenterologist Dr. Kartikeya Tripathi, who answered questions related to colorectal cancer, including prevention, diagnosis, and its treatment.

How can I prevent colorectal cancer?

There are several ways one can reduce the risks of developing colon cancer including:

  • Getting timely screenings. This is the most important patient-provider-driven factor that can reduce colon cancer over time in the community. Regular screening tests for colon cancer can help detect the disease early when it is most easily treated.
  • Maintaining a healthy diet. We know now that a diet that is high in red and processed meat increases the risk of developing colon cancer. Hence, I recommend that one should eat a diet that is high in fiber, fruits, and vegetables and low in red/processed meats to reduce the risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Alcohol and smoking are also factors linked to developing colon cancer. Limit alcohol intake and avoid smoking completely, as smoking not only can cause colon cancer, but also has been linked with various other cancers.
  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle/body weight. Regular physical activity, such as brisk walking, can help reduce the risk of developing colon cancer. Obesity is also linked to an increased risk of colon cancer.

Who is at risk for colorectal cancer?

There are several factors that can determine a person’s risk of developing colorectal cancer. For example, age; the risk of colon cancer increases as you get older, and therefore, the screening guidelines recommend that we start screening for colon cancer at the age of 45.

Other risk factors include family history. There are certain genetic conditions that put people at higher risk for colorectal cancer, such as Lynch syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis syndromes; personal history of colorectal polyps or colon cancer; and having inflammatory bowel diseases, like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. Also, certain ethnicities including African Americans and those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent have higher risks of getting colon cancer than other racial or ethnic groups. People with a sedentary lifestyle or an unhealthy diet are also at risk for developing colon cancer.

It is important to emphasize that while these are important risk factors for developing colon cancer, colon cancer may develop in patients with no risk factors at all, and therefore, screening for colon cancer is of utmost importance.

What are my screening options?

There are several options for screening for colon cancer.

  • Colonoscopy remains the gold standard test. It is safe and effective and has high sensitivity and specificity to detect from small polyps to advanced adenomas, and colon cancers. Colonoscopy remains the only test that is diagnostic and could be curative for earlier lesions. The goal is to remove any polyps that we see during the exam, as these are the polyps that become cancer over time.
  • Fecal immunochemical test is a stool-based test that checks for hidden blood in the stool and can also be used for screening. However, the sensitivity and specificity are lower.
  • Stool-based DNA tests are an excellent option to detect the presence of colon cancer or precancerous polyps and this test is done every three years. However, if any of these tests come back positive, one must do a colonoscopy as a definitive test.

Other screening recommendations include flexible sigmoidoscopy and CT colonography are available; however, these are not very accurate and are not routinely used for screening for colon cancer.

What are some of the symptoms of colorectal cancer?

It is important to remember, colon cancer may not cause any symptoms at all during its early stages and is pretty much asymptomatic. Therefore, regular screening is really important.

Although once it becomes large enough to cause symptoms — such as altered bowel habits, constipation or diarrhea or rectal bleeding, abdominal pain or cramping, weight loss, and/or fatigue — change in stool caliber could occur.

To schedule your colorectal cancer screening, call the Quincy Medical Group Gastroenterology department at (217) 222-6550, ext. 3636. No physician referral is needed. For more information about Quincy Medical Group’s Gastroenterology team and services, visit quincymedgroup.com.