Spring 2014
Ask the expert: Colorectal cancer

Caroline Loeser, MD

Q&A about colorectal cancer with Caroline Loeser, MD, chief of Gastroenterology, Bridgeport Hospital

What is colorectal cancer?
A.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States in both men and women. It is the second leading cause of cancer-related death. Colorectal cancer starts in the cells that line the inside of the colon wall. These cells become polyps or lesions that can lead to cancer. Colon cancer is one of the few cancers that can actually be prevented simply by removing these polyps.

How is colorectal cancer detected?
A.
Polyps can be detected through a colonoscopy. If polyps are found, they are removed during the colonoscopy. Again, these lesions or polyps are not always cancerous, but they could become cancer if they are not removed.

What is a colonoscopy?
A.
This test lets a gastroenterologist look at the inside of a person’s large intestine, where polyps can form. A thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera is inserted into the colon. This can be done with or without the patient being sedated. If polyps are found, they are removed using this tube. These polyps are then examined or biopsied to see if they are cancerous. Most often they are not.

Are there other screening tests available?
A.
Other screening tests include fecal occult blood tests, immunochemical tests and stool DNA tests. But these are not as sensitive as a colonoscopy in detecting polyps, which is why a colonoscopy is preferred.

Who should be screened, when and how often?
A.
Everyone should be screened, beginning at age 50. The lifetime risk of colorectal cancer nearly doubles if a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. These individuals should begin screening at age 40 or when they are 10 years younger than the age when their family member was diagnosed, whichever comes first.

How often should someone be screened?
A.
That is determined by the results of the first colonoscopy screening. Generally, if polyps are found, follow- up screenings should be at least every five years. If no polyps are found during the initial screening, then typically the colonoscopy is repeated in 10 years.

What screening services are available through Bridgeport Hospital?
A.
Bridgeport Hospital has a dedicated suite to perform colonoscopies. Typically, patients are seen by their gastroenterologist first. The benefits and potential risks of the colonoscopy are discussed and a screening is scheduled. For uninsured, underinsured and low-income individuals, Bridgeport Hospital provides a limited number of screening colonoscopies at no charge through a grant from the Connecticut Department of Public Health. For more information about this grant, individuals should contact Janet Patton at (203) 384-4417.

For a referral to a Bridgeport Hospital gastroenterologist or colorectal surgeon, please call toll free, 24/7, (888) 357-2396.