Of a Certain Age? Time for a Colonoscopy

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital December 16, 2016

The American Cancer Society recommends that both men and women undergo a colonoscopy every 10 years, beginning at age 50.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women in the United States. The gold standard screening procedure for colon cancer is a colonoscopy, a test that allows your doctor to examine the inner lining of the large intestine (rectum and colon) for polyps, ulcerations, diverticulosis and early signs of cancer.

“Unlike other screening tests, a colonoscopy actually prevents cancer by allowing us to find and remove lesions before they become problematic,” said Dr. Jessica R. Allegretti, a gastroenterologist in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Endoscopy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH).

In fact, due to increased awareness about screenings, the death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping for more than 20 years. Read More »

Colorectal Cancer Prevention: Five Things You Need to Know

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital March 8, 2016

Jeffrey Meyerhardt

Dr. Jeffrey Meyerhardt

Contributor: Jeffrey Meyerhardt, MD, MPH, is clinical director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

While one of the most common cancers in both men and women, colorectal cancer remains a very preventable disease, explains Dr. Meyerhardt.

“Most of these cancers develop over a period of years,” said Dr. Meyerhardt. “While not preventable in everyone, the earlier you detect the disease, the more curable it is.”

Below are five tips from Dr. Meyerhardt on ways to reduce your risk.

1. Live a healthy lifestyle.

“There are various dietary factors that play a role in colorectal cancer,” explained Dr. Meyerhardt. “The one that’s the most consistently shown in studies is red and processed meat.” To lower your risk, Dr. Meyerhardt recommends eating fewer than two servings of red or processed meat per week. This includes foods such as steak, hamburgers, and hot dogs.

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Colorectal Cancer: Do Men and Women Experience Different Symptoms?

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital March 26, 2014

Men and women generally exhibit the same colorectal cancer symptoms.

Contributor: Jeffrey Meyerhardt, MD, MPH, is Clinical Director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

While there are slightly more incidences of colorectal cancer in men (71,860 new cases projected in the U.S. in 2014) than women (65,000), both men and women generally exhibit the same symptoms of the disease, explains Dr. Meyerhardt.

“Many patients don’t have symptoms, but they’re diagnosed because they get a screening colonoscopy,” says Dr. Meyerhardt. Common symptoms for patients who do show signs of colon or rectal cancer include blood in the stool, changes in bowel habits, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain. Some patients also have symptoms related to anemia, including increased tiredness or shortness of breath, or may be found to be anemic from routine blood work.

The risk factors for colorectal cancer — which include age, family history of the disease, or having Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis — are also similar for men and women, Dr. Meyerhardt says. However, some lifestyle choices also can increase risk. These include obesity, lack of physical activity, low vitamin D, and consuming a high amount of red meat, which may differ between men and women.

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Colorectal Cancer: Five Things You Need To Know

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital March 4, 2014

Thanks to increased awareness, the death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping for more than 20 years.

Contributor: Dr. Jeffrey Meyerhardt is the clinical director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S., with about 134,490 new patients diagnosed in the U.S. in 2016. But thanks to increased awareness about screenings, the death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping for more than 20 years.

“For the most part, colorectal cancer is a curable and preventable disease,” says Dr. Jeffrey Meyerhardt, clinical director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center. “It is a cancer where we have very good data that shows screening prevents disease and saves lives.”

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Colorectal Cancer: Screening Can Be a Lifesaver

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital March 26, 2013

Dr. Walter Chan and patient navigator Oscar Sanchez team up to encourage patients to get a colonoscopy.

One of the key missions of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is to remind people that a colonoscopy is an invaluable tool for helping to prevent colorectal cancer. So why doesn’t everyone get one?

Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) gastroenterologist Walter Chan, MD, MPH, stresses that everyone should get screened for colorectal (colon or rectal) cancer by age 50. Thereafter, patients should get a colonoscopy every 10 years, up to age of 75. Patients over the age of 75 should ask their doctor whether they should get a colonoscopy or any other colorectal cancer screening test. People with a family history of colorectal cancer should get a colonoscopy even sooner – at age 40 or earlier – and some medical experts recommend that African-Americans start screening at age 45.

Unfortunately, many people fail to follow this advice, and the impact is significant. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in Massachusetts, but it’s believed that more than 33 percent of these cases could be prevented if everyone over the age of 50 were screened.

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