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Don't be embarrassed to death, know your colorectal cancer risk

March 23, 2015 | John Murray
William E. Karnes, MD

UCI Health gastroenterologist Dr. William E. Karnes

Do you know the health of your digestive tract? Some people are reluctant to get a colonoscopy or speak to their doctor about colorectal health because they’re embarrassed to talk about that area of their body.

UCI Health experts Dr. Michael J. Stamos and Dr. William E. Karnes say, “Don’t be embarrassed to death.”

“Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., but it doesn’t have to be,” says Stamos, a colorectal surgeon, chair of the UCI Health Department of Surgery and past president of the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery.

Colorectal cancer: preventable, treatable and curable

“The good news is that it’s preventable, treatable and curable.”

Among non-smokers, colorectal cancer is the number one cancer killer. Although there is not a single cause of colorectal cancer, certain factors can increase your risk, says Karnes, a gastroenterologist and expert in high-risk colorectal cancer.

Some risk factors can be modified, while others are beyond your control.

“The good news is that no matter how high on the risk scale you are, colorectal cancer can be diagnosed early and treated successfully,” he says.

Screening and surgical skill are key

For more about the risk factors that you can control and those you can’t, Karnes recently conducted a webinar that also explains the importance of colorectal cancer screening and how to prevent colorectal cancer.

Stamos emphasizes that if you or a loved one are diagnosed, it is critical to find an experienced colorectal surgeon, as there are not enough highly trained colorectal surgeons to fill the need. He said most cases are performed by general surgeons who may not have a high enough volume of patients be fully proficient in minimally invasive surgery, called laparoscopy.

Both agree that screening is the key. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 60 percent of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented if men and women 50 or older were screened routinely.

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