Q&A: Dr. Phillip Bowden

Have you heard the one about when all of the body parts got together to decide which was most important? The colon won: When it ceased to cooperate, the hands shook, the eyes watered, the stomach cramped, and the mind moved sluggishly.

Gastrointestinal health is no joke, though. Some 160,000 people are diagnosed with colon cancer every year in the U.S. and 60,000 die from it. The cancer rate here is comparable to other large metropolitan areas.

Gastroenterologist Phillip R. Bowden was born in West Helena, Arkansas, raised in Landover, Maryland, and completed medical school at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He started his practice here in 1995, and opened his clinic and surgery center at 1417 Monroe Avenue in 1998. Mayor Herenton named Bowden to the Memphis Light, Gas and Water board earlier this year just before the recent leadership controversy broke. No word on which place presents the good doctor with more, er, challenges.

How did you get into this and get over the gross parts?

I have an uncle who's a gastroenterologist, and I interned with him, so it was a natural fit. I never really thought about the other specialties. It's a life- saving thing. You get used to it. It goes for me and everybody who joins my team. The first day or two, if they've never been involved, they have some issues. Very quickly it becomes what we do on a normal, daily basis. I can't remember ever having a problem with it. I've been doing it for years; it's old hat.

How do you create awareness of gastrointestinal health?

We use an ad agency. I've done radio interviews, and we do radio and TV commercials. We attend health fairs and screenings. We try to put the message out that everyone over 50 should be endoscoped. Every time a person comes through here, we try to educate them about the problem and what they need to tell their friends and relatives about it.

Is all of this barbecue bad for us?

Everything in moderation. If you eat it every day, you've got an issue. It's not a problem in moderation.

What can people do to prevent colon cancer?

We know now that the largest component is genetics. However, people who smoke, drink, or are obese are more likely to have problems with colorectal cancer. A lesser factor is diet. People who have diets higher in red meat, lower in fiber, high in fats, and low in vegetables are more likely to have problems with colorectal cancer — men and women alike.

Are African Americans disproportionately affected?

They're not disproportionately affected. They're affected younger, and they die more often. More recent research has suggested that we begin screening African Americans at the age of 45 instead of 50.

How have you adapted during your career?

I became a colonic therapist. We use colonics to clean out colons and remove waste. I realized that I could use it to prepare people for colonoscopy. One of the problems with colonoscopy is that people don't want to take that gallon of laxative. With colonics a person can come in 30 minutes before their test and get cleaned out without taking any laxative. Then we follow that up with the procedure.

Where would you like to see more research directed in your field?

Figuring out a more inexpensive way to evaluate the colon. I suspect that over the next five to ten years, we won't be doing any of the things we're doing now. It's rapidly changing, so my goal is to keep up and give my patients the most advanced technique that's available for endoscopy. We're installing a CT scanner now. You can't remove a polyp, but the CT scanner can find it, and that eliminates what you have to go through with a colonoscopy. 

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