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Dr. Scott Holekamp Urges Women to Have Screening for Colorectal Cancer
By Nancy Kennedy

Scott A. Holekamp, M.D.

Colorectal cancer is a woman's cancer, says St. Clair Hospital colorectal surgeon Scott A. Holekamp, M.D., and American women need to be as concerned with it as they are with breast and gynecological cancers. For women over 40, regular screening for cancer is an essential element of a healthy lifestyle, and most are vigilant about getting mammograms and Pap smears as recommended. Screening for colorectal cancer is every bit as important.

"Women need to know that colorectal cancer is a common cancer," Dr. Holekamp explains. "It affects men and women in nearly equal numbers. More women will die of colorectal cancer than cervical, uterine and ovarian cancers combined." According to the National Cancer Institute, there will be 143,000 new cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed in 2013, with 74,000 cases in men and 69,000 in women. Approximately 50,000 Americans will die of colorectal cancer this year.

"Fortunately, we can screen for it," says Dr. Holekamp, "and it's treatable. When diagnosed early, 90% of colorectal cancers can be cured with surgery." The key to early diagnosis is, of course, screening, and that means a colonoscopy. Dr. Holekamp says that although there are several ways to screen for colorectal cancer, colonoscopy is the gold standard: "There are other diagnostic tests, but they have shortcomings: the Guiac detects hidden blood in the stool, but it can't tell you where that blood is coming from. A flexible sigmoidoscopy looks at the rectum and lower colon, but not the entire colon. Colonoscopy is the best way to see the entire colon directly."

A colonoscopy enables the physician to find polyps (growths on the inner wall of the colon) and remove them. Most polyps are non-cancerous. But some may become cancer, and must be removed. "A polyp takes about ten years to become cancer," Dr. Holekamp says. "That's why the CDC recommends having a colonoscopy at least every ten years and that people with average risk have their first at 50. In addition, people should talk to their physician because personal or family history of bowel disease may require earlier screening."

He says that colonoscopy is not the ordeal that it used to be. "We make it as easy as possible. You're sedated so you won't even remember it. And the prep is easier now."

No specific cause of colorectal cancer has been identified, but age, family history and bleeding are the main risk factors. "I hear patients say, when they have bleeding – 'I saw blood but I thought I had hemorrhoids.' Bleeding is a symptom of colorectal cancer because the intestinal mucosa changes as it degenerates and forms a polyp. Polyps fall apart easily and bleed. Never ignore bleeding or make an assumption about it. Eat enough fiber and drink enough water to keep your stool soft," Dr. Holekamp recommends. "Your colon likes fiber."

Dr. Holekamp is possibly the only colorectal surgeon in America who is also an engineer, with a bachelor's degree in engineering and a master's in bioengineering, in addition to his medical degree. "I originally wanted to be an engineer, so I went to the University of Cincinnati and went to work designing furnaces. I liked drafting, the creative part – but I didn't want to do it forever, so I decided to go to medical school. I liked surgery. I did a residency in general surgery at Beth Israel in New York and my fellowship at Jackson Memorial Hospital of the University of Miami." Dr. Holekamp chose colorectal surgery because he believes that many patients benefit from discreet treatment of colorectal issues. In addition, colonoscopy and high quality surgery save lives in the treatment of colorectal cancer.

Dr. Holekamp says that colon cancer is a "huge issue" for women and the key is screening. "People are beginning to understand how important it is. If you have a colonoscopy and polyps are removed, you won't get cancer. The colonoscopy will pluck out the cancer. It can be a fixable disease."

Dr. Holekamp is a native of the Zanesville, Ohio area and now lives in Upper St. Clair with his wife Claire, an Emergency Medicine physician, and their two sons. He relaxes on the weekends by mowing the lawn, he says, but mostly enjoys time with his family. He also enjoys being at St. Clair Hospital. "St. Clair is like a small town. People know each other; if another physician needs a consult, you can go right away. There are great doctors here who interact easily, so you can tailor the care to what is really needed. I also find that a smaller hospital has a more personal feel and that creates a comfortable patient environment."

Dr. Holekamp shares a practice, Colorectal Surgical Associates, with Leigh Nadler, M.D., and can be contacted by calling (412) 572-6192. For more information on St. Clair Hospital, visit www.stclair.org.

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