Early colon cancer detection means earlier treatment – what are the treatment options?

Colon cancer is the No. 2 cancer killer in the United States because it frequently catches people unaware, according to the National Cancer Institute. But half of the colon-cancer deaths each year could be avoided if every adult older than 50 is screened, according to the American Cancer Society.

Preventative screening is an important first step in detecting colon cancer; however, it is the decisions you need to make if a screening comes back positive that can influence your future health. When caught early, colon cancer is highly treatable.

Treatment for colon cancer ranges from chemotherapy to surgery. Minimally invasive – also called laparoscopic – colon cancer surgery has been made possible thanks to advances in technology. Minimally invasive surgery uses state-of-the-art technology to reduce the damage to human tissue during a procedure. In most procedures, a surgeon makes several small 3/4-inch incisions and inserts thin tubes, or access ports, into the patient’s abdomen. A miniature camera is then placed through one of the port sites so the surgical team can view the procedure as a magnified image on video monitors in the operating room. Then, specialized instruments are placed through the other port sites to perform the procedure. Surgery for colon cancer usually entails removing the cancer, along with a section of colon on either side of the cancer spot. Finally one of the port site incisions is elongated several inches so that the specimen can be removed along with nearby lymph nodes.

Minimally invasive procedures have been proven to be as effective as traditional open surgery. More than 20 million Americans have had a minimally invasive procedure. Not only do these procedures usually provide the same outcomes to open surgery, they may offer significant benefits as well:

* Quicker recovery. Since a minimally invasive procedure requires smaller incisions than conventional surgery (usually about the diameter of a dime), patients may heal much faster (e.g., patients who underwent minimally invasive colectomy for colon cancer returned to work five to 26 days quicker than with a traditional procedure, according to a study conducted by the Advisory Board Company.)

* Decreases the risk of acquiring infections. Laparoscopic surgery for hysterectomy, cholecystectomy (gall bladder) and appendectomy reduced the risk of hospital-acquired infections by 52 percent when compared to open surgery, according to a study published in Surgical Endoscopy.

* Shorter hospital stays. Minimally invasive procedures help get patients out of the hospital (up to seven days) and back to their normal routine (average of 36.4 days) sooner than conventional open surgery, according to studies published in Surgical Innovation and the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

* Less scarring. Most incisions are so small that it’s hard to even notice them after the incisions have healed.

* Less pain. Because these procedures are less invasive than conventional open surgery, there is typically less pain involved.

* Cost savings. Patients who undergo minimally invasive surgery save between $ 438 and $ 8,286 in hospital costs, compared to those who undergo conventional open surgery, according to studies published in Surgical Innovation and the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

Colon cancer can be a deadly and costly disease, but if caught early, can be treated successfully and with less invasive or costly options. Getting screened when recommended can help a person start treatment early, potentially without having ever experienced a symptom of colon cancer.

If you are over 50 and have never been screened, now is the time. If you have been diagnosed with colon cancer, talk with your doctor about the potential for minimally invasive surgery treatment. For additional information, visit www.smarterpatient.com/coloncancer.

This article is sponsored by Ethicon Endo-Surgery.