The LookOut  
Health News  A service of Saint John's Health Center

Ask the Doctor at Saint John’s: Colon Cancer Do I Really Need to Get Tested?

Q: I’ve been hearing a lot about colon cancer lately. Why the attention?

A: By Maggie Lee DiNome, M.D., F.A.C.S., Board Certified general surgeon at Saint John’s Health Center.

Look at it this way: You’re having a lovely walk in the park Ð but you might be headed for a 50-foot cliff. Fortunately, just a few steps in the right direction could help you avoid the drop. Wouldn’t you take those simple steps?

Well colon (colorectal) cancer is serious. It’s the third most common form of cancer in the U.S. in both men and women. But it’s almost entirely preventable through appropriate screening (beginning at age 50 for average patients, 10 years earlier than the youngest affected family member for people with colon cancer in their family).

Caught early enough, it’s completely curable in most cases. Life-saving screening procedures that simply require a bit of patient cooperation to keep us on a healthy path deserves our attention, don’t you think?

The colon is our large intestine Ð the last place food goes before leaving our body as waste. The opening at the end of the digestive tract gives us a unique opportunity to view the colon and take steps that may be required to cut off Polyp Man (American Cancer Society’s bad guy) at the pass. What we’re looking for are pre-cancerous polyps.

Beginning at age 50, men and women should follow one of 5 testing schedules that are approved by the American Cancer Society (visit and to learn who’s considered at risk):

  • Yearly fecal occult blood test (FOBT)*
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years (a tube with camera on end is inserted halfway up the colon)
  • Yearly FOBT plus flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years**
  • Double-contrast barium enema every five years (a dye placed in colon lights up the area for viewing by specialist)
  • Colonoscopy every ten years Ð the gold standard (a tube with camera on end views entire colon, patient is comfortably sedated)
  • Take-home method in which three samples are taken on three consecutive days.

**Combination of FOBT and flexible sigmoidoscopy is preferred over either of these two tests alone. On average, it takes several years for pre-cancerous polyps to become cancerous. That’s plenty of time for someone who gets regular testing to detect any problems. Get the test, get the polyp, get the cure: that is the American Cancer Society’s mantra. Remember that. And get tested!

Dr. DiNome serves on the Cancer Committee at Saint John’s Health Center. A colorectal cancer spokesperson for the American Cancer Society, she was recently named one of America’s Top Surgeons by the Consumer Research Council of America. Dr. DiNome is particularly dedicated to caring for patients with colorectal cancer, breast cancer, and melanoma.

For more information about Dr. DiNome or other Saint John’s services, please call (310) 829-8990 or visit the website at For a physician referral or a second opinion, please call 1-888-ASK-SJHC.

Want to learn about a variety of health and lifestyle issues? Watch ‘Coffee Break,’ a weekly, live television show broadcast Wednesdays at 2:00 Ð 3:00p.m. on Santa Monica City TV Channel 16 and LA City TV Channel 36.

Health News is provided by Saint John's Health Center and covered under their copyrights