Never Too Young for Colon Cancer


Photo Credit: Colon Cancer Alliance



Dr. Eric Anderson               Dr. Joshua Pogorelec

Dr. Eric Anderson                 Dr. Joshua Pogorelec

 Divine Savior Healthcare General Surgeons, Dr. Eric Anderson and Dr. Joshua Pogorelec frequently perform colonoscopies and believe that “the best protection against cancer is early detection”.

March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month, a time that heavily promotes the importance of getting screened for colon cancer to those 50 years of age and older the recommended screening age. However, recent studies are finding that this month should also bring awareness of colon cancer to younger adults, as an increase in colon cancer diagnosis is coming at a younger age.

Divine Savior Healthcare understands this rising concern and takes part in raising awareness to the community through our free annual cancer screening services offered in the month of April. “Taking preventative measures, and early detection through screenings is so important when it comes to cancer,” shares Divine Savior Healthcare Community Wellness Coordinator, Kari Due. 

“It is a great opportunity to be able to offer preventative services to the community for all ages as it can greatly increase chances of successful treatment. That is why we are offering free screenings and preventative health information in April,” states Due.

In a recent study done by Rebecca Siegel, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society and the lead author of the study, the annual rate of colorectal cancer for adults in their 20s increased from one to two cases for every 200,000 people over the past three decades.

Siegel’s study also showed, for those 50 and older, colorectal cancer rates have dropped over 100 cases per 100,000 people: from 226 in 1985 to 117 in 2013, and the rate of colorectal cancer was just over seven cases per 100,000 people for this age group.

Looking ahead, Dr. George J. Chang, chief of colorectal surgery at MD Anderson Cancer Center, predicts “by 2030, roughly one in 10 colon cancers and one in four rectal cancers will be diagnosed in people under 50.”

Why the age shift in colon cancer diagnosis?

It is noted that most colorectal cancers are considered a “disease of aging”, so experts are finding this age shift in diagnosis to be out of the ordinary and concerning.

There are a number of risk factors that are associated with colon cancer and experts are researching if any of these are having a larger influence in the diagnosis of younger adults. Looking at the risk factors, the number one risk factor for colon cancer is age; if you are 50 years of age or over, you are at risk for colon cancer even if you have no family history of the disease. There is also ethnic/racial influence, as African-Americans have the highest colon cancer risk and are more likely to die from the disease than any other racial or ethnic population. African-Americans are more likely to be diagnosed when the disease is at an advanced stage, contributing to the high mortality rate.

And yet we are still left with the unanswered question, “why we’re seeing such an increase in young adults?” This is where researching the other common risk factors comes into consideration for those under the age of 50.

Other Common Risk Factors Include:

  • A personal or family history of colon cancer or polyps
  • Inflammatory bowel disease of significant duration
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Diet high in fat and/or red meat, and diet low in fruits and vegetables

Many of the risk factors listed above are associated with environmental exposure and lifestyle habits and behaviors. As the New York Times reported, in Siegel’s study, it showed that “people from Africa who were suddenly switched to an American diet had signs of inflammation in their colons within just two weeks.” This brings up a concerning question, if those at risk habits and behaviors could be the cause of this change.  

Divine Savior Healthcare supports National Colon Cancer Awareness Month and we encourage those who have any signs or symptoms of colon cancer to talk to their doctor. Our General Surgeons, Dr. Eric Anderson and Dr. Joshua Pogorelec frequently perform colonoscopies and believe that “the best protection against cancer is early detection”. Catching it in the early stages is the best way to increase chances of survival. Patients shouldn't let the fear of the prep or procedure prevent them from scheduling an appointment. There are many different options for prep, and a patient's comfort is always a priority. 

What are common signs and symptoms to pay attention to?

  • Bloating
  • Weight loss
  • Constipation and blood in the stool can often be mistaken for hemorrhoids
  • And some symptoms may be vague, such as general digestive complaints like diarrhea or constipation, cramping and abdominal pain

It is recommended for those aged 50 and older to get screened by colonoscopy. Those under 50 can still take preventative measures and help the fight against colon cancer by:

  • Knowing your family history tell your doctor if colon cancer runs in your family
  • Maintaining healthy lifestyle habits watch your diet and exercise regularly
  • Keeping an eye out for symptoms don’t ignore bowel changes or rectal bleeding
  • If symptoms do arise, get a thorough examination don’t hesitate to talk to your provider


Cancer Screening Phone Lines

“Anyone can take part in Divine Savior’s cancer screening program next month. It is the opportunity to receive a free colon cancer screening kit to use at home, and free processing by Divine Savior Healthcare.  The test is simple and you do not even need to come in.  Just call our Cancer Screening phone line and we will mail it to your home.  Other free services include a free skin cancer screening exam by appointment on April 18th from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m., and free cancer prevention information mailed to your home,” shares Due. 

If you would like to take advantage of these free services, call Divine Savior Healthcare’s Cancer Phone Line at 608 745-6406 between April 3-6 from 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.

For more information prior to April 3, call 608 745-6289.

If you’re interested in scheduling a colonoscopy, Divine Savior Healthcare has an experienced team of general surgeons to help make each step as comfortable as possible. To make an appointment with Dr. Eric Anderson or Dr. Joshua Pogorelec, call 608-745-5186.


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Experiencing a dull pain in the pit of your stomach

Stomach PainGastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, and gallbladder disease are two very common disorders. Knowing which one you have may be trickier than you think. Symptoms may be vague, such as a “dull pain in the pit of your stomach”, making it hard for you to explain to your doctor what’s exactly going on.

At Divine Savior Healthcare, General Surgeons, Dr. Eric Anderson and Dr. Joshua Pogorelec, have seen many patients with these symptoms and after further examination are able to help  diagnose and treat both diseases.

What is GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease GERD refers to stomach contents moving into the esophagus causing a burning sensation commonly referred to as heartburn. Other symptoms may occur as well, such as pain in the upper abdomen, bloating, nausea and an acid taste in your mouth.  If this continue, prolonged exposure of the esophagus to stomach contents can result in damage to the lining of the esophagus.  This in turn can result in difficulty swallowing, pain with swallowing or permanent damage to the esophagus.

Although not all reflux results in symptoms or damage to the esophagus, common symptoms include:
• Heartburn
• Acid regurgitation
• Belching
• Difficulty or pain when swallowing
• Waterbrash sudden excess of saliva
• Dysphagia the sensation of food sticking in the esophagus
• Chronic sore throat
• Laryngitis
• Inflammation of the gums
• Erosion of the enamel of the teeth
• Chronic irritation in the throat
• Hoarseness in the morning
• A sour taste
• Bad breath
• Coughing at night

What is gallbladder disease?
The gallbladder is located below the liver on the upper right side of the abdomen. The main function of the gallbladder is to store bile, which is made in the liver and allows fat-soluble vitamins and nutrients to be easily absorbed into the bloodstream. Any condition that affects the gallbladder is considered a disease, and there are many different scenarios that fall under gallbladder disease:
• Inflammation
• Gallstones
• Common bile duct stones
• Biliary Dyskinesia
• Infection
• Perforated gallbladder
• Gallbladder polyps
• Porcelain gallbladders
• Gallbladder cancer

Dr. Anderson and Dr. Pogorelec share "the most common disease of the gallbladder is gallstones. Most people with gallstones do not even know they have them.  Once they cause problems, the gallbladder may need to be removed. Symptoms include pain below the right rib cage or in the “pit” of the stomach. This pain may radiate to the right upper back, chest, or shoulder. Other symptoms may include, bloating, nausea or vomiting, fever or chills, chronic diarrhea, jaundice yellow-tinted skin, or unusual lighter-colored stools or dark urine.”

After taking a closer look at GERD and gallbladder disease, Dr. Anderson and Dr. Pogorelec are able to provide helpful insight on common distinguishing factors between the two diseases.

Common distinguishing factors:
• Location: Although both may feel like a “pit in your stomach”, if you experience symptoms located closer to your throat or in your chest it is more likely to be GERD related. Symptoms located near your right lower rib radiating into your right upper back, chest and shoulder are more likely to be associated to your gallbladder.
• Pain: Unlike GERD, gallbladder pain usually begins suddenly, and changing positions, belching, passing gas or taking medications rarely helps pain symptoms go away.
• Timing: With heartburn being the most common symptom of GERD, symptoms of reflux are likely to occur shortly after eating, where symptoms of gallbladder disease usually occurs several hours after eating and have more consistent patterns of reoccurrence the same time each day.

What does treatment look like?
The symptoms of GERD are commonly and effectively treated with over-the-counter medications such as anti-acids and proton pump inhibitors. However, if relief does not go away from these medications your provider may recommend you be evaluated by one of our surgeons at Divine Savior.

After a thorough history and physical, our surgeons may recommend further evaluation of the esophagus and stomach with endoscopy.  Similar to colonoscopy, but without the need for prep, upper endoscopy allows the surgeon to visualize the esophagus, stomach and intestine to evaluate for damage to the esophagus, infection and a hiatal hernia.  Depending on the findings, further testing may be indicated to evaluate the function of the esophagus. 

Patients with severe GERD benefit from surgery to prevent reflux from occurring.  This procedure is commonly performed by both Dr. Anderson and Dr. Pogorelec, is minimally invasive, and very effective at treating GERD.  In fact, most patients no longer require any antacid medications after the procedure.

If you are found to have stones in the gallbladder causing symptoms, the best course of action is to have the gallbladder removed.  Leaving the stones in place will continue to cause pain and may result in serious infection of the gallbladder and bile ducts, jaundice or pancreatitis. 

Both Dr. Anderson and Dr. Pogorelec routinely perform minimally invasive removal of the gallbladder.  This is most often an outpatient procedure and very successful.  After a short recovery, most patients will find their symptoms are gone and they are able to live a normal life. 

If you experience symptoms related to GERD or gallbladder disease, or have concerns about either, it is best to consult your provider for further examination. Treatment for either disease varies person to person, but taking action immediately and being properly treated can help you prevent problems from worsening.

To schedule an appointment with Divine Savior Healthcare General Surgeons, Dr. Anderson or Dr. Pogorelec, call 608-745-5176.

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