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How Colorectal Cancer Screening Can Save Your Life

July 10, 2020
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According to Dr. Harbir Sawhney, gastroenterologist at Baystate Gastroenterology in Ware, the risk of developing colorectal cancer increases with age, as does the occurrence of most cancers.

Why is screening important?

“A colonoscopy is considered the gold standard for testing for colorectal cancer,” says Dr. Sawhney. “Most importantly, it can save your life.”

The good news is colorectal cancer is a slow growing cancer and if detected early, is very treatable.

Most colorectal cancers begin as benign polyps.

“People who have polyps or polyps that have progressed to early colorectal cancer do not always have symptoms. Therefore, someone could have polyps or early colorectal cancer and not know it. Colonoscopy is the most sensitive test for detecting pre-cancerous polyps and cancers in the colon,” Dr. Sawhney said.

Polyps can be found by screening and removed before they can develop into cancers. Screening is also allowing more colorectal cancers to be found earlier when the disease is easier to cure. Treatment for colorectal cancer has improved over the last several years.

“As a result, there are now more than one million survivors of colorectal cancer in the United States,” Dr. Sawhney said. “When colorectal cancer is detected in the earliest stage of the disease, the survival rate is greater than 90 %.”

Dr. Sawhney recommends patients begin screening colonoscopies soon after turning 50, and then continue getting screened at regular intervals every 10 years.

“However, you may need to be tested earlier or more often than other people if you or a close relative have had flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy or colorectal cancer or if you have inflammatory bowel disease,”Dr. Sawhney said. “Your primary care provider will determine what screening test is best for you and when you should have it.”

About flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy

Two very common screening procedures are flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy. The difference between the two procedures is that the sigmoidoscopy only looks at a portion of the colon, while the colonoscopy goes through the entire colon.

An advantage to these methods is the doctor is able to not only detect polyps but remove them at the same time. This prevents the polyp from becoming cancerous.

Risk Factors

“While there is no single, defined cause of colorectal cancer, there are a number of risk factors, Dr. Sawhney said.

Some risk factors we cannot control include:

  • Age
  • History of polyps
  • Cancers or other bowel disease
  • Family history
  • Ethnicity

Several risk factors within our control include:

  • A diet high in red meat
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Lack of exercise
  • Being overweight
  • Having type 2 diabetes

About Dr. Harbir Sawhney

Dr. Sawhney earned his medical degree at Seth G.S. Medical College in Bombay, India. He completed his residency in internal medicine at the University of Health Sciences Chicago Medical School in Chicago, IL and a fellowship in Infectious Disease at Boston University Medical Center in Boston. Dr. Sawhney is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and completed a fellowship in Gastroenterology in the Division of Gastroenterology at the University of Massachusetts in Worcester.

He is a member of the:

  • Infections Disease Society of America
  • Massachusetts Infectious Disease Society
  • Massachusetts Medical Society
  • American Board of Internal Medicine
  • Indian Medical Board

Dr. Sawhney is skilled in advanced diagnostic procedures and treatment options for patients with problems in the esophagus, stomach, large and small intestines, rectum, gall bladder, liver, or pancreas. He is also an Infectious Disease Physician who specializes in the care of HIV and Hepatitis C.


Dr. Sawhney is currently accepting new patients.

For more information about colonoscopy screening or to schedule an appointment, call Baystate Gastroenterology at 413-967-2800.