Dr.Oz and the Polyp: Physician Screen Thyself

Dr. Mehmet Oz is always encouraging people to live healthier lives, and that includes following recommendations about colon cancer screening. This year, Dr. Oz turned 50, and as according to recommendations, he underwent a colonoscopy. During the examination, his doctor found and removed an adenomatous polyp, a precancerous growth, inside his intestine. Dr. Oz told People magazine:

“This was a shakeup for me.  I have done everything right. I don’t have any family history, and yet I’m high risk now….The only thing holding me back from a terrible outcome is the dumb luck that I checked myself out for the show. I would have put this off, like a lot of people. But I bet this saved my life.”

Dr. Oz will now need to get frequent colonoscopies to make sure no new polyps have developed, the first- three months from now.

Almost all colon cancer starts in glands in the lining of the colon and rectum. Nearly all colon cancers begin as noncancerous (benign) polyps, which slowly develop into cancer. This is why screening for colon cancer with colonoscopy is so effective. We recently did a story about colonoscopy after actor John Forsythe’s death from colon cancer. Click here to learn about how a colonoscopy is done.

A polyp is an abnormal growth of tissue projecting from a mucous membrane. If it is attached to the surface by a narrow elongated stalk it is said to be pedunculated. If no stalk is present it is said to be sessile.

What is the difference between benign and malignant tumors? (Source: National Cancer Institute)

Benign tumors are not cancer:
o Benign tumors are rarely life-threatening.
o Most benign tumors can be removed. They usually do not grow back.
o Benign tumors do not invade the tissues around them.
o Cells from benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body.

Malignant tumors are cancer:
o Malignant tumors are generally more serious than benign tumors. They may be life- threatening.
o Malignant tumors often can be removed. But sometimes they grow back.
o Malignant tumors can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs.
o Cancer cells can break away from a malignant tumor and spread to other parts of the body. Cancer cells spread by entering the bloodstream or the lymphatic system. The cancer cells form new tumors that damage other organs. The spread of cancer is called metastasis.

When colorectal cancer spreads outside the colon or rectum, cancer cells are often found in nearby lymph nodes. If cancer cells have reached these nodes, they may also have spread to other lymph nodes or other organs. Colorectal cancer cells most often spread to the liver.

When cancer spreads from its original place to another part of the body, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the original tumor. For example, if colorectal cancer spreads to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are actually colorectal cancer cells. The disease is metastatic colorectal cancer, not liver cancer. For that reason, it is treated as colorectal cancer, not liver cancer. Doctors call the new tumor “distant” or metastatic disease.

For more information about colon cancer, click here to go to the Resounding Health Casebook on Colon Cancer.

For more information about the importance of family history in illness, check out our articles about Lady Gaga, and President Obama.

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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