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Why You Shouldn’t Wait To Get A Colorectal Cancer Screening

Are you on the fence about getting screened for colorectal cancer? Perhaps you think you’re too young to get cancer, or you don’t have a family history of it, or you’re anxious about the procedure. You push off the appointment, allowing yourself to think, “I’ll do it sometime soon…”

When it comes to colorectal cancer screenings, you shouldn’t ever wait. Regular screenings are recommended for those 45 years and older, and even younger if you have certain risk factors. For example, people with certain inherited conditions are at a higher risk for colon cancer, including those with Lynch syndrome and those with adenomatous polyopsis. You are also at higher risk if you suffer from certain inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s colitis, or ulcerative colitis.

Early detection is the key to effectively dealing with colorectal cancer. When detected early, colorectal cancer has a 95% survival rate. However, that rate drops to 25% if the cancer is not detected and spreads to other organs. 

Screening tests aren’t just used to identify existing cancer. Through screening, your doctor may find and eliminate precancerous polyps (abnormal tissue growths) in the rectum or colon, removing them before they even have the chance of becoming cancerous. Between 25-40% of adults in the United States are estimated to have colorectal polyps.

Colorectal Cancer Increases in Younger Populations 

While the overall occurrence of colorectal cancer has dropped in recent years (largely due to a rise in screenings), its rate among younger populations has actually increased. In fact, according to the American College of Gastroenterology, a millennial now has 2 times the risk of getting colon cancer and 4 times the risk of getting rectal cancer than someone from the baby boom generation. Research shows that rates in adults younger than 50 are continually increasing by 2%, every year. Mortality rates are also increasing.

What is causing this alarming change? Researchers attribute higher colorectal cancer rates in younger adults to a number of factors, including higher rates of obesity, more sedentary lifestyles, poor diet, and other environmental factors. A study released this May found a link between the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and colorectal cancer in women under 50. According to the study, women who drank two or more servings of sugary beverages had twice the risk of developing early-onset colorectal than those who consumed less. Furthermore, adolescents ages 13-18 who consumed sugary sodas had a 32% risk of eventually developing early-onset colorectal cancer. Research is only beginning to unlock certain lifestyle and dietary factors that play a role in developing colorectal cancer.

Colorectal Cancer and Covid-19

During the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, lockdowns and closings forced many people to cancel or put off every type of screening test. Colorectal screening tests in particular decreased by over 90%. In the following months, the numbers of tests only increased to 50% of what they were before the pandemic began. This drastic decline in testing is associated with troubling data about cancer outcomes. In June 2020, the National Cancer Institute predicted an excess of 10,000 colorectal cancer or breast cancer related deaths in the U.S. over the next 10 years, just because of pandemic-induced delays in testing, diagnoses, and treatments. Remaining up-to-date on testing is more important now than ever. 

If you’re due for a colorectal screening test or appointment, but are concerned about Covid-19 safety, don’t hesitate to book an appointment at Gastroenterology Health Partners. We uphold a number of safety procedures in-office, including mask requirements, cleaning and sanitization practices, disinfecting common spaces, and upholding social distancing when possible. Maintaining your safety is of the highest importance to us, just as is providing you with colorectal screening tests such as colonoscopies, flexible sigmoidoscopies, and more. Give us a call today to schedule your appointment.

Pandemic Alcohol Intake and GI Health

The past year-and-a-half has been incredibly difficult for everyone. From hundreds of millions of deaths to the challenge of lockdowns, social isolation and economic hardship, no one has remained unscathed.

Many people have turned to harmful coping mechanisms to deal with the medical, psychological, and sociological problems brought on by pandemic-related stress. While research is still limited, studies suggest that alcohol consumption has increased greatly. The first week of the pandemic, alcohol sales increased by 54% and online alcohol sales increased by 262%. A cross-sectional survey of American adults published in December 2020 found that 60% of people reported increased drinking. 34% of people engaged in binge-drinking and 7% reported extreme binge-drinking.

The impact of increased alcohol consumption on gastrointestinal health is even more staggering. Studies presented at the 2021 Digestive Disease Week suggest a major surge in inpatient consults for alcohol-related gastrointestinal and liver diseases since the beginning of the pandemic. Waihong Chung, a research fellow for the Division of Gastroenterology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, conducted extensive research on the subject.

Chung found that during the initial lockdown phase of the pandemic, the number of in-person gastrointestinal appointments decreased by 27% (due to restrictions/closings). However, of those appointments, the proportion of consults for alcohol-related GI and liver diseases, such as hepatitis, pancreatitis, gastritis and cirrhosis increased by 59.6%! And, as lockdowns lifted, that percentage increased to 78.7%. Furthermore, patients with alcoholic hepatitis increased by 127.2% (since 2019) and the number of inpatient endoscopic procedures almost tripled.

Chung also contested that the occurrence of alcohol-related diseases could be much higher than reported, since many illnesses take time to manifest or show mild symptoms. Even if you seem to experience no ill-effects from binge-drinking, you should be aware that excessive alcohol is wreaking havoc on your gastrointestinal system. In the short-term, excessive alcohol causes intestinal inflammation and organ damage, alters intestinal microbiota, harms intestinal immunity and homeostasis, and damages the liver. In the long-term, you can suffer from alcohol-related gastrointestinal and liver diseases.

Unfortunately, the long-term effects of Covid-19 on alcohol misuse and overconsumption still have yet to be realized. For example, following the 2003 SARS epidemic, individuals in China who had been directly affected/involved were far more likely to abuse alcohol three years after the epidemic ended. The lasting psychological effects of the pandemic will likely increase alcohol misuse for years to come.

Besides causing fatal gastrointestinal conditions, alcohol can worsen existing mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. If you or a loved one has been struggling to maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol during the pandemic, it’s recommended that you talk to your primary care doctor or seek medical help. There are behavioral, medical, and mutual-support-based treatment options available for you.

If you are struggling with gastrointestinal issues, induced by alcohol or by something else, seek experienced medical attention. The professional team of medical providers at Gastro Health Partners serves patients across the state of Kentucky and Southern Indiana. Contact a location near you today for more information, or to schedule an appointment.

Coronavirus Vaccines: Best Practices for People with IBD

People with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), such as Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis, may have questions about how they should approach coronavirus vaccines. The International Organization for the Study of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IOIBD) recently highlighted an article titled ‘SARS-CoV-2 vaccination for patients with inflammatory bowel diseases: recommendations from an international consensus meeting.’ In this article, the organization highlights the recommendations related to coronavirus vaccines IOIBD has developed for people with IBD. Here are a few highlights:

1. People with IBD should get a coronavirus vaccine

Overall, there was broad and overwhelming agreement among IOIBD members that coronavirus vaccines are safe and necessary for people with IBD. This consensus was reached through multiple questions that explored IOIBD member opinions on the efficacy and safety of the vaccines for IBD patients.

2. People with IBD should get a coronavirus vaccine as soon as it is possible

Not only does the IOIBD recommend vaccines for people with IBD, they recommend people with IBD receive a vaccination as soon as they are eligible.

3. Coronavirus vaccines, including messenger RNA vaccines, replication-incompetent vector vaccines, inactivated vaccines and recombinant vaccines, are safe for people with IBD

IOIBD members considered the main types of vaccines that may be available for people with IBD. They did this to ensure safety across all vaccines. After review, they broadly agreed that all vaccine types are safe.

4. Coronavirus vaccination shouldn’t be delayed if a person with IBD is receiving immune-modifying therapies

Some people with IBD may be undergoing immune-modifying therapy to suppress an inflammatory response. Still, coronavirus vaccines are safe for them.

5. People with IBD who receive a coronavirus vaccine should be informed that the vaccine’s efficacy can decrease if they are receiving systemic corticosteroids

This is also an important insight for people with IBD. They should receive a coronavirus vaccine when possible. However, if they are receiving corticosteroids to calm a flare-up, the vaccine may be less effective.

Our experienced team at Gastro Health Partners continues to safely provide care for our patients during the coronavirus pandemic. We can help establish the best plan of care for your situation. Visit us online at https://www.gastrohealthpartners.com/ to learn about the options we offer and schedule an appointment today.

Coronavirus and the GI system: What does the evidence tell us?

The coronavirus continues to have an enormous impact on the way we live. Over the past several months, we have begun to learn more and more about the virus. We’ve learned about how it spreads, its symptoms, how to detect it, and potential approaches for vaccines. Crucially, the virus has several documented impacts and features related to the gastrointestinal system. Let’s take a look at the evidence. 

Note: As the medical and public health understanding of the coronavirus continues to evolve, there’s a lot we still don’t know for certain. It’s important to recognize the difference between evidence-based conclusions, emerging evidence without sufficient peer review, and speculation. We will carefully frame each point based on the amount and kinds of evidence supporting it. 

Coronavirus Symptoms Associated with the Gastrointestinal System

The coronavirus can cause a range of symptoms, from a fever to a loss of smell and a headache. We do know that it can cause gastrointestinal symptoms in some cases. These well-documented GI symptoms include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. However, not everyone with coronavirus will experience these symptoms. 

Some interesting emerging research suggests that there may be clusters of symptoms. One of these clusters involves gastrointestinal symptoms. Researchers at King’s College London studied data from around 1,600 COVID-19 patients who logged their symptoms to the research group’s COVID Symptom Study app in March and April. They found six distinct clusters of symptoms from the data: 

  1. Flu-like with no fever. Headache, loss of smell, muscle pains, cough, sore throat, chest pain, no fever.
  2. Flu-like with fever. Headache, loss of smell, cough, sore throat, hoarseness, fever, loss of appetite.
  3. Gastrointestinal. Headache, loss of smell, loss of appetite, diarrhea, sore throat, chest pain, no cough.
  4. Severe level one, fatigue. Headache, loss of smell, cough, fever, hoarseness, chest pain, fatigue.
  5. Severe level two, confusion. Headache, loss of smell, loss of appetite, cough, fever, hoarseness, sore throat, chest pain, fatigue, confusion, muscle pain.
  6. Severe level three, abdominal and respiratory. Headache, loss of smell, loss of appetite, cough, fever, hoarseness, sore throat, chest pain, fatigue, confusion, muscle pain, shortness of breath, diarrhea, abdominal pain.

As you can see, the gastrointestinal cluster includes GI symptoms like diarrhea and loss of appetite. Other clusters also contain GI symptoms. Each cluster was also associated with differing proportions of patients who required hospitalization and breathing support. The escalating severe clusters had the largest percentage of patients requiring significant medical support. 

It’s important to note that while the researchers have replicated their findings with a second 1,000 person data set from June, the research is not peer-reviewed yet. However, this is certainly something to keep an eye on as more data trends emerge. 

Sewage: A Potential Method for Measuring Infection Spread

Early on in the pandemic, evidence emerged from multiple studies showing that people infected with the coronavirus shed viral particles in their poop. Whether the disease can spread through feces is still undetermined. However, there has been growing interest in sampling sewage to determine the extent of disease spread. 

This has been particularly appealing because of the lack of adequate testing in many countries. This has led to a significant undercounting of actual infection numbers. A cross-sectional CDC study conducted across multiple states used serological testing on a convenience sample with people of all ages to identify how many had developed antibodies to the disease. This gave a more accurate picture of how many people have been infected, since the presence of antibodies indicates that a person had been or was currently infected. The study found that actual infection numbers were likely 10 to 12 times higher than reported through testing. Note that large-scale seroprevalence studies like this one are continuing to be conducted to identify likely infection rates, so the results here are preliminary. 

With such a disparity between reported and actual case counts, wastewater sampling offers a convenient and accessible way to identify disease spread in a particular area. Importantly, results are quicker than those from viral and serological tests. This is helpful, timely data that can inform decisions about disease containment in the event of a flare-up. Additionally, it can help researchers see the viral ancestry of the disease, tracking different strains, viral changes over time, and spreading patterns and paths. 

There are drawbacks, though. This kind of sampling can’t prove that an entire population is completely clear of the virus. Another drawback is that we still don’t know how many copies of viral RNA need to be present in a sample for disease to be detected. This means false negatives are possible, as we don’t know the minimum number of copies that trigger detection. A lower count of copies could go undetected with an improper assumption about a minimum. 

Overall, there’s certainly a lot we still have to learn about the coronavirus and the GI system. However, as scientists conduct more and more research, we have a better opportunity to make data-informed decisions at public health, medical, governmental, interpersonal, organizational, and individual levels. 

Our experienced team at GHP has years of experience helping patients with a variety of diseases and conditions. We can help establish the best plan of care for your situation. Contact any of our office locations to learn about the options we offer and schedule an appointment today.