Central Maine Healthcare gastroenterologist recommends screening beginning at age 45

LEWISTON — March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a time to focus on the third-most diagnosed cancer in the United State. Central Maine Healthcare gastroenterologist Kanishka Bhattacharya, MD, stresses that early detection is crucial in preventing the onset of colorectal cancer.

Dr. Bhattacharya said that colorectal cancer usually starts as a benign polyp and then progresses to colorectal cancer over a period of 10-15 years. The emphasis should be on early detection, removal of pre-cancerous polyps and preventing progression to colorectal cancer.

He said an increase in the number of colorectal cancer screenings has led to earlier detection increased survival rates from colorectal cancer.

“The mortality rate has fallen quite a bit,” he said. “However, as we are doing screening, we are detecting it earlier.”

Dr. Bhattacharya said that if polyps are caught early, before they become cancerous, a patient’s chance of surviving is nearly 100 percent. Colonoscopy is the only modality that will diagnose and remove colorectal polyps and prevent them from progressing to cancer, he said.

According to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, this type of cancer takes the lives of about 50,000 in the United States every year, while another 150,000 are diagnosed with it annually.

But according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, more Americans are surviving colorectal cancer. Between 2014 and 2018, for example, the number of incident rates declined by about 2% each year for adults 50 and older.

The American Cancer Society’s recommended age for screening was recently dropped to 45, following an increase in the number of colorectal cancer diagnoses in people aged 45-50.

Colonoscopies are usually done on an outpatient basis at Central Maine Healthcare. The procedure involves a colonoscope, a long, thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera and light on one end that relays information to a video monitor. You can learn more about colonoscopy screenings at CMH here.

There are some unknowns about colorectal cancer. For example, Dr. Bhattacharya said, men have a slightly higher risk of developing it, but there is no consensus on why that is.

Also, it’s not specifically known what role lifestyle habits play in developing colorectal cancer. But diet likely is a factor, as it is with many forms of cancer.

“There seems to be an increase in all cancers as we get heavier, so it’s related to obesity, which is related to diet,” Dr. Bhattacharya said.

Excessive amounts of meat, particularly processed meat, should be avoided to help prevent colorectal cancer, he said.

The Stand Up to Cancer organization agrees, and recommends a diet that’s high in fruits, vegetables and whole-grain fiber. They also say physical activity and avoiding alcohol and tobacco may also be effective in preventing colorectal cancer.

Central Maine Healthcare is an integrated healthcare delivery system serving 400,000 people living in central, western and Midcoast Maine. CMH’s hospital facilities include Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Bridgton Hospital, and Rumford Hospital. CMH also supports Central Maine Medical Group, a primary and specialty care practice organization. Other system services include the Central Maine Heart and Vascular Institute, a regional trauma program, LifeFlight of Maine’s southern Maine base, the Central Maine Comprehensive Cancer Center, and other high-quality clinical services.