As a central New Jersey-based gastroenterologist, I perform hundreds of colonoscopies each year. Depending on your family and personal medical history, it’s one of those tests you need to undergo because colon and rectal cancers are highly prevalent and particularly sneaky.
They often start as painless and symptomless polyps in the lower GI tract, but over time, these polyps can grow quite large and become cancerous. Finally, when symptoms eventually occur, the cancer has already reached a more advanced stage or moved into other parts of the body.
A second-degree family member has colon cancer
In 2013, a 44-year-old male from Parlin, with a second-degree relative (uncle) who had colon cancer, wisely took it upon himself to schedule a colonoscopy with me. He had no pain or other symptoms but was concerned about his increased risk. As a result of his colonoscopy, I discovered and biopsied a suspicious mass, which was then diagnosed as stage 3 colon cancer. Partnering promptly with an oncologist and a colorectal surgeon, he underwent chemotherapy and surgery to remove the tumor. Three years later, he continues to be cancer-free.
No family history of colon cancer
Recently, a 52-year-old old man from Roosevelt came in to see me with unusual changes in his bowel habits and ongoing rectal pressure. He did not suspect cancer as he had no family history, but knew ‘something wasn’t right.’ Again, I performed a colonoscopy, eventually diagnosing stage 2 cancer. In order to evaluate the complete extent of his disease and help guide the choice of treatment, I performed a specialized procedure called endoscopic ultrasound, which obtains highly accurate images and information about the digestive tract and the surrounding tissue and organs. This allows me to clearly visualize the digestive tract and any tumors for further diagnosis and cancer staging.
Based on these tests, I referred the patient to CentraState Medical Center oncologist Dr. Bhavesh Balar, radiation oncologist Dr. Neesha Rodrigues and colorectal surgeon Dr. Thomas Kayal for treatment and eventual surgery. The patient has just completed preoperative chemotherapy and radiation and is scheduled for curative surgery to remove the malignant (cancerous) tissue.
Colorectal cancer screening is essential, particularly for people over age 50 or starting around age 40 for those with a family history. While less invasive (and less effective) screening tests abound, colonoscopy is still the gold standard not just for diagnosing—but also removing—suspicious polyps and growths.
Colon and rectal cancer symptoms
Early stage colon or rectal cancer may be asymptomatic but eventually these symptoms may appear:
- A change in bowel habits–diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts more than a few days
- Feeling you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so
- Rectal bleeding, dark stools, or blood in the stool
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
Today’s minimally invasive screenings and surgical advancements for colon and rectal cancer treatment can save lives. But patients cannot be helped if their cancer is not diagnosed. Talk with your family doctor or GI specialist about your personal risk. Then play it safe—if screening is recommended, get it done and ensure you are not one of nearly 50,000 Americans who will lose the battle against colorectal cancer this year alone.
Community-based cancer prevention and treatment
The Colon and Rectal Cancer Program at CentraState offers a full range of preventative, diagnostic and treatment services, including advanced robotic surgical technology. The program team is led by doctors and clinicians who specialize in diagnosing and treating colon and rectal cancer. For more information, call (855) 411-CANCER or visit centrastatecancercenter.com.
Kunal Gupta, MD is board-certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology and earned a master’s degree in Business Administration. He serves as chief of gastroenterology at CentraState Medical Center and has authored several articles, abstracts and medical textbook content. Dr. Gupta can be reached at Middlesex Monmouth Gastroenterology in Freehold by calling 732-577-1999.