Among the cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. In Wisconsin, an annual average of 2,824 residents were diagnosed with it and 1,000 died of the disease.* Yet according to Meriter Medical Group gastroenterologist Gary Griglione, MD, many of these deaths could have been prevented with a colonoscopy, a screening test recently proven to significantly reduce America’s risk for colon cancer (Source: Centers for Disease Control, February 2012).
“We want 100 percent of the recommended population in Madison to have this test because we know it can prevent colon cancer–it’s that simple,” says Dr. Griglione.
The newest evidence of the colonoscopy’s life-saving potential was just reported in the respected New England Journal of Medicine. In patients tracked for as long as 20 years, the death rate from colorectal cancer was cut by 53 percent in those who had the colonoscopy and whose doctors removed precancerous growths. “That’s an extraordinary finding that confirms why colonoscopies are necessary,” affirms Griglione.
The challenge, he says, is getting people to come in for the screening. Meriter’s Digestive Health Center is on a mission to improve the colonoscopy’s reputation and minimize some of the fears surrounding the procedure:
“People who aren’t at high risk don’t need a colonoscopy.” New guidelines state that people at average risk of developing colorectal cancer should get screened starting at age 50, whereas people at high risk — those with inflammatory bowel disease or a personal or family history of the disease — should get screened starting at age 40 or earlier. “You may not need another screening for 10 years if nothing is found, but it’s critical for people to come in and get that first screening,” says Dr. Griglione. The guidelines recommend several screening options for average-risk patients: colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy, both of which involve inserting a narrow tube with a camera into the rectum, or stool sample tests.
“There’s a gallon of really yucky stuff to drink beforehand.” Not at Meriter, where Miralax, a “low-volume” prep alternative, is used. It is a gentle, more palatable prep that can be mixed with any clear liquid. Besides improved taste, the Meriter recipe only requires half as much of the prep to be consumed before the test. Dr. Griglione has been involved in clinical studies on the safety and efficacy of Miralax, and has been using it exclusively with his colonoscopy patients for the past seven years.
“If something is found during the colonoscopy, that’s really bad news.” Actually, just the opposite may be true, says Dr. Griglione. Most colon cancers start as non-cancerous growths called polyps, that are found in approximately 30 percent of colonoscopies performed at age 50; and even more frequently as patients age. Those polyps are removed during the colonoscopy, “so we are actually preventing cancer from developing,” he says.
“The test is complicated and painful.” The whole screening takes just 30 minutes, and is completely painless, assures Dr. Griglione. “Before the colonoscopy begins, we’ll give the patient intravenous sedatives that make them relaxed and sleepy. Most patients will have no pain whatsoever during the procedure and will probably not remember the colonoscopy itself,” he says. “Normal activities can resume the next day; this procedure has a very low rate of complications.”
Bottom line: If you are age 50 or older, or at risk for colorectal cancer, talk to your doctor about a colorectal cancer screening. To schedule the 30-minute screening at Meriter, call (608) 417-5454—appointments are guaranteed within one week.
*American Cancer Society, Wisconsin Cancer Facts & Figures, 2011