KATY MAGAZINE l APRIL 2019
Dr. Kang of Gastroenterology Consultants of West Houston, warns that colon cancer is happening to younger and younger adults than in past years. It is now the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. Here's what Katy families need to know.
KATY MAGAZINE I April 2019
by Katrina Katsarelis
An Interview with Dr. Kang, Gastroenterology Consultants of West Houston at Memorial Hermann Katy Hospital
IMPORTANT QUESTIONS ABOUT COLON CANCER AND YOUNGER PEOPLE
Is Colon Cancer Really on the Rise?
Early onset cancers may have different genetic mutations with tumors developing in unusual areas of the colon. "Yes, the studies are confirming more and more younger (people) are getting colon cancer than ever before," says Dr. Kang.
In March 2019, Reuters Health News reported that the incidence of early onset colorectal cancer has increased over the past two decades. The study also revealed that colorectal cancers have decreased in patients over 50 years old, most likely due to screening. Experts are concerned because the earlier the cancer develops, the less it resembles a typical colon cancer, making it sometimes more difficult to treat.
Additionally, the American Cancer Society also warns there has been a steady increase of colorectal cancer in adults in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, increasing to 11 percent in 2013, up from six percent in 1990. A study from a group that analyzed colon and rectal cancer incidence by birth year found that rates dropped steadily for people born prior to 1950, but have been been increasing for every generation born since 1950.
What is the Biggest Danger for Younger People?
"Because many younger people think colorectal cancer is just for seniors, many people in their 40s, 30s, or even 20s might disregard warning signs and symptoms for months or even years thinking they're not old enough to have colon cancer," says Dr. Kang. "It's not uncommon for people in the 40s, 30s and even 20s to develop colorectal cancer."
What Symptoms do I Look For?
"Because colon cancer is such an insidious disease, it can sometimes grow silently without setting off any warning signs in your body," says Dr. Kang. "Patients of any age who exhibit any of these warning signs, should schedule an appointment with a board certified gastroenterologist for proper screening."
Bleeding may be red or dark red (indicating dried blood). Bleeding is always a concern and should be checked out.
Dark or Black Stools
Bleeding that happens higher up in the digestive tract may make stool appear black and tarry. This is also a concern and should be checked out.
Cramping in the Lower Stomach
Although stomach cramps, gas, bloating and abdominal pain can be attributed to other disorders, they can also be symptoms of colon cancer.
Having a bowel movement less than three times a week isn't always related to colon cancer, but sometimes is. A tumor in the colon can make it very difficult for waste to get by, causing constipation.
Changes in Bowel Habits
Colon cancer may affect the large intestine's ability to perform some of the functions it had before, causing changes in bowel habits. This may be in the form of constipation or diarrhea. If something used to come easy and now is a struggle or has changed, you may want to get screened.
False Urges to Use the Bathroom
Have a sensation to have a bowel movement when there is no need to have one is also a warning sign. A tumor that grows toward the end of the colon or in the rectum may cause a sense of fullness. This is because your body senses that there is something else present by the exit. Basically, the body treats the tumor as a stubborn piece of waste that it keeps trying to pass which is why you will sometimes get these false urges.
Change in the Size or Appearance of the Stool
If your stool is now long, thin, stringy, dark, or black, this could be a warning sign.
Regular Gas and Bloating
A pattern of gas and bloating may be an indication that a tumor is growing in the colon and occasionally causing a blockage. While your bowel is blocked and air is trapped, you will be bloated. When the blockage resolves itself, all that air will need somewhere to go and you will be gassy.
Unintentional Weight Loss
Unexplained weight loss can also be a symptom of cancer because tumors use up the body's energy, thereby burning calories faster.
Blood loss through the rectum or stool is often the reason anemia could be present. Many times the blood loss occurs slowly and may not be visible to you.
What can I do to Decrease the Risk of Colon Cancer?
According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is one of the more common cancers in the US. About one in 23 men and one in 25 women will develop colon or rectal cancer at some point during their lifetime. "There are some things people of all ages can start doing now to help lower their risk," explains Dr. Kang.
Alcohol use has been linked with a higher risk of colorectal cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. A single drink amounts to 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1½ ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (hard liquor). Research shows that habits related to diet, weight, and exercise are linked to colorectal cancer risk, and those links are stronger than for other types of cancer.
Eat less meat.
Eating less red meat (beef, pork, or lamb) and processed meats (hot dogs and some luncheon meats) can decrease the risk of colorectal cancer.
Eat lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.Diets that include lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains have been linked with a decreased risk of colon or rectal cancer.
Get regular exercise.
If you are not physically active, you may have a greater chance of developing colon or rectal cancer. Increasing your activity may help reduce your risk. Learn more about how to meet diet and exercise goals at cancer.org/foodandfitness.
Watch your weight.
Being overweight or obese increases your risk of getting and dying from colon or rectal cancer. Eating healthier and increasing your physical activity can help you control your weight.
Long-term smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop and die from colon or rectal cancer. If you smoke and you want to quit, or know someone who does, see the American Cancer Society guide to quitting tobacco, or call them at 1-800-227-2345. Getting help increases your chances of quitting successfully.
Screenings are tests that look for cancer before signs and symptoms develop. Colorectal screenings can often find growths on the colon or rectum called polyps that can be removed before they turn into cancer. These tests also can find colon or rectal cancer earlier, when treatments are more likely to be successful. The American Cancer Society recommends testing starting at age 45 for people at average risk; talk to your health care provider about when you should start and which tests might be right for you.
Do I Have to Get a Colonoscopy?
Not always. According to Dr. Kang, not everyone with symptoms will require a colonoscopy, "There are other diagnostic methods and stool tests that we can recommend first." There are two broad categories of screening tests including stool tests and structural exams. "However, colonoscopy is the most accurate way to screen for both colon polyps and colorectal cancer." Dr Kang explains. "Because a colonoscopy is performed under anesthesia, it is not considered a painful exam," says Dr. Kang.
Will Insurance Cover My Screening Tests?
Yes. People age 50 and over (45 for African Americans) or those who are younger but have increased risks or symptoms will usually be covered by your health insurance policy at virtually no cost to you.
Where do I Get a Colonoscopy?
You should see an experienced board certified gastroenterologist or colorectal surgeon who has performed many colonoscopies.
ABOUT OUR KATY EXPERT
Hyon Kang, D.O.
Gastroenterology Consultants of West Houston
Memorial Hermann Katy Hospital
23920 Katy Freeway, Suite 560
Katy, TX 77494
Dr. Hyon Kang is board certified in both gastroenterology and hepatology, and currently practices at Gastroenterology Consultants of West Houston at Memorial Hermann Katy Hospital. After graduating from Colorado College with a Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry, Dr Kang joined the United States Air Force as a logistics officer. He served in Japan and Korea for 4 years before returning to the United States to pursue a career in medicine. He won the Air Force health professional scholarship and graduated from the Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. Dr. Kang completed his internship and internal medicine residency at Lackland Air Force, then went to the University of Virginia for fellowship training in gastroenterology. There, he specialized in general gastroenterology and therapeutic procedures including ERCP, a special procedure involving the bile and pancreatic ducts, such as removing gallstones or unblocking obstructions caused by tumors. Dr. Kang also specializes in treating liver diseases including Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.
Dr Kang retired from the Air Force and has been in Texas since 2010. He was in El Paso for three years before deciding to make Houston his permanent home. He was employed at Cyfair Medical Center for over four years before opening his own practice in Memorial Hermann Katy in April 2018.
When Dr Kang is not seeing patients, he enjoys playing golf, traveling, and reading. For the last four years he and wife of 27 years have been on medical missions each summer to Peru and Mexico and have commitments to do so for the foreseeable future. Dr. Kang takes pride in treating each patient with the utmost respect and dignity. His motto is that each patient should feel better by the time he or she leaves the office. A part of this stems from his wealth of non-medical background and strong faith in Christianity.
Dr Kang welcomes new patients and accepts most insurances including Medicare.
Katy Magazine would like to thank Dr. Kang for contributing to this story.