Martha Jefferson Healthwise: Colorectal Cancer

March 5, 2014

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month and healthcare providers at Martha Jefferson Hospital want to make sure that people know about something called universal tumor testing.

Talking about colonoscopies may not be the most desired topic of conversation for some people, but healthcare providers in the cancer center at Martha Jefferson Hospital say it's important subject to discuss.

"The colon often gets overlooked. A lot of people know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month but March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month. So, talking with your family members about have you had a colonoscopy? Were polyps found? (It's) not the most fun dinner time conversation, but actually can be really important to your own health," said Martha Thomas, Genetic Counselor, Martha Jefferson Hospital.

Early detection could mean the difference between life and death.

If there is a cancerous tumor found during screening, doctors in the lab are now able to provide something called universal tumor testing. They can look at the tumor under a microscope and determine if the cancer is hereditary or not.

"It's actually looking at the DNA in the cancer itself which is different from the DNA that we're born with and it just helps direct us as to whether or not this is sporadic colorectal cancer or if it could be part of a larger underlying genetic syndrome," said Thomas.

In addition to meeting national guidelines, healthcare providers say this type of testing is necessary for other reasons.

"Martha Jefferson is really on the cutting edge of making sure that we're doing things in accordance with these guidelines and also it provides us with the ability to better serve our patient population and to detect these families that might otherwise be overlooked.

If doctors know that you are at an increased risk or developing colorectal cancer, they say they can start that screening earlier and at a more frequent time table. They hope by doing so it will prevent the development or a later stage of colorectal cancer which would make surgeries and treatment operations so much better for the patient.

The recommendation is that you have your first colonoscopy at age 50 or 10 years before the earliest diagnosis in your family whichever is the youngest.

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