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Cancer Answers: Dr. Igor Nastaskin

QUESTION: How can I prevent getting cancer?

Have you ever thought about or come across an advertisement regarding prevention of cancer? If so, then keep reading.

Unfortunately, there are thousands of different types of cancers -- some are very common and some are extremely rare. Medical science offers options to treat cancer once it is diagnosed, but in many cases this is already too late. There is not much medical science can offer in terms of prevention of cancer with one big exception: There is a way to prevent colorectal cancer.

Colorectal (also commonly known as colon) cancer is a big deal! It is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States for both men and women. One in 20 people would get colon cancer -- it is that common. But the absolute majority of colon cancers could be prevented if everyone 45 years of age or older starts screening with a test called a colonoscopy.

Colon cancer is unique in that it develops from inside of a polyp, which is a small bump on the inside lining of the colon or rectum. A polyp usually grows without any symptoms for years and eventually may degenerate into cancer. However, this precancerous polyp stage also allows an opportunity for cancer prevention if the polyp is caught and removed in time.

Since screening for colon cancer was implemented, nationwide rates of death from colon cancer have been steadily declining. In fact, one large study identified a 53-percent reduction of death from colon cancer thanks to colonoscopic identification and removal of a polyp. This is the good news. The bad news is that almost half of Americans 50 years and older are still not getting screened.

Over 75 percent of colon and rectal cancers occur in individuals with no known risk factors and they often begin with no symptoms, which is why regular screenings are so important. Both men and women are equally at risk for colon cancer and the risk of developing colon cancer increases with age.

For some, the financial considerations may hold them back. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act makes an effort to get more people to participate in preventive care screenings by requiring that there be no deductibles or copays for defined screening and preventive services, one of which is a screening colonoscopy. Moreover, some insurance also do not require a referral from your primary care doctor to schedule a colonoscopy.

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The March Colorectal Awareness effort serves as an opportunity to remind patients to get a screening colonoscopy, but colon health is of great importance to us all year long. Understanding this terrible disease is essential for anyone who has been diagnosed with colon cancer and especially for those who prefer to prevent it.

With regular screenings and early detection, colorectal cancer is preventable, treatable and beatable. For more information, call our the oncology nurse navigator at 805-346-3463.

Mission Hope Cancer Center will offer an informational session with gastroenterologist Dr. Igor Nastaskin, who will explain the importance of a colonoscopy at 5:30 p.m. March 12 in the conference room, 1325 E. Church St., in Santa Maria. Space is limited, so make a reservation early by calling 805-219-4673.

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Dr. Igor Nastaskin spent many years in the field of gastroenterology and hepatology. He has been preventing and diagnosing colon cancer among many other ailments of gastrointestinal tract in the Santa Maria community since 2010. Nastaskin can be reached at 805-614-9880.