When it Comes to Colon Cancer, One Year Could Make All the Difference
The American Cancer Society recommends that people at average risk of colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45.
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
Kriss Caprara turns 50 next year and would have waited to get a routine colonoscopy screening. After all, that had been the recommended age for many years. However, when it comes to polyps, a lot can change in a year. If left long enough, Adenomatous polyps can grow and even turn into cancer.
“I went in to get an updated physical for my CDL license and the doctor noticed I had not had one yet and that’s when I found out you should go at 45 instead of waiting until 50,” said Caprara.
He’s a Butte resident who likes to golf, float the rivers, and boat on the lake. He’s always been in pretty good health but, most often, the things a colonoscopy can detect don’t have any symptoms.
A polyp is an abnormal growth. During a colonoscopy, a long, flexible tube with a tiny camera at the tip allows Dr. Michael James to examine the large intestine and rectum to look for abnormalities. Not all polyps are pre-cancerous but they all come out during the colonoscopy. James removes them upon detection and sends them to a pathologist —a doctor who specializes in analyzing tissue samples — to find out what kind of polyp it is and how far along it is.
If you’re having symptoms, that usually means you’re having symptoms of cancer — such as an obstruction, pain, nausea, bloating, or bleeding and that’s usually pretty advanced — things have moved along too far. We want to catch people when the polyps are tiny, easy to get out.
The incidence of colorectal cancer in adults age 50 and older in the U.S. has been decreasing since 1990. James credits the colonoscopy screening for that.
However, the numbers are rising for individuals younger than 50. That’s why in May 2021, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued new recommendations for colorectal cancer. Now they’re advising that average-risk adults start screening at age 45, allowing health insurance companies to cover the cost of the test at a younger age.
Colon polyps are common in American adults. Anywhere between 15 and 40 percent of adults may have colon polyps, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health.
Butte resident Caprara was no exception.
“They found a large polyp and an ulcer and they’re glad they did it in time and there was nothing wrong with it but they were just concerned because it was large and they grow, I guess, the longer they’re there so that’s why it’s important to get it done when you’re supposed to,” said Caprara.
Caprara felt worried about the procedure but after it was over, he said that he worried for nothing.
“The test is one of the easiest things you’ll do,” said James. “You’ll come in, you’ll be sedated by an anesthesia provider, you’ll not feel a thing. You will have a nice nap, you’ll wake up, you’ll go have a nice breakfast. That’s the colonoscopy. The hard part is the prep. You have to clean the colon out. I have to have a good look at every square centimeter of your colon and in order to do that, you have to drink some stuff that flushes everything out the day and the night before. That’s the hard part. But a small price to pay again if you look at the alternatives.”
James is new to St. James Healthcare but no stranger to Butte. His family is from here and he grew up in Billings before going to Carrol College, joining the military, and later practicing GI for 24 years in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He moved to Butte three months ago and loves it for its access to mountain biking and snowmobiling. He took an interest to gastrointestinal practice while in medical school because it’s a profession that takes care of problems right away — bleeding, gallstones, and polyps.
“We help people. It’s very satisfying,” said James.
A colonoscopy is one of several tests to screen for colorectal cancer. Others include a fecal immunochemical test, computed tomography colonography, sigmoidoscopy, guaiac-based fecal occult blood test, multitargeted stool DNA test. If any of the other tests come out positive, the patient will still need a colonoscopy to get the polyp out.
“Of all the screenings you can do, (colonoscopy) is the one test, the one thing that you can actually prevent cancer with — removing the polyp is removing the chance that can turn into cancer and decreasing the mortality rates in colon cancer,” said James.
His number one message to everyone during Colorectal Awareness Month: get screened, in any manner you’re comfortable with. “Colorectal cancer today is the third leading cause of cancer death in women, the second leading cause of cancer death in men. But it’s a preventable disease,” said James
“It’s something that everybody should do,” said Caprara. “So you might as well do it when you’re supposed to and hopefully it will lead to good things and longer life and not have to worry about that.”
You can call SCL Health Medical Group - Butte Surgical Associates at 406-496-3600 to schedule an appo]intment or visit https://www.sclhealth.org/locations/medical-group-butte-surgical-associates/ for more information.
About St. James Healthcare
St. James Healthcare is the largest and only acute care health care facility in southwest Montana. Serving the region for more than 135 years, St. James Healthcare is a 67-bed hospital located in Butte, Montana. St. James Healthcare has more than 450 associates, alongside 100 physicians and advanced care professionals, offering 24-hour care and dozens of progressive specialty services. St. James is part of SCL Health, a nonprofit faith-based health system with 8 hospitals in Colorado and Montana. Together St. James Healthcare, St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, and Holy Rosary Healthcare in Miles City represent SCL Health Montana. To learn more about St. James Healthcare, visit www.sjh-mt.org.