Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month: When Should You Get Screened?
Talking about colorectal problems can be difficult, but not doing so can be deadly. More than 53,000 Americans are expected to die of colorectal cancer this year, and many of those deaths could be prevented, a local cancer expert says.
“Early screening drives early detection, which drives good outcomes,” says William Wise, Jr., MD, a colorectal cancer surgeon at OhioHealth. During Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, Wise urges people to know their risk factors and find out if they should schedule a potentially life-saving colonoscopy test.
Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Of the 150,000 new cases expected to be diagnosed this year, approximately 45,000 will be rectal cancer.
Wise says colorectal cancer rates have been steadily declining over the past 30 years, due solely to screening. However, more young people are being diagnosed with the disease, and still not enough people are getting screened. “About 60 percent of people who should be screened actually receive screenings,” Wise says. “We still are not where we should be.”
Current guidelines call for people at low risk and with no symptoms to start receiving screening colonoscopies at age 45 and repeat them every 10 years until age 75 if no abnormalities are found. Colorectal cancer almost always develops from precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. If polyps are found, the test should be repeated every three to five years, depending on the nature of the polyp, Wise says. Individuals between 76 and 85 should consult with their physicians on screenings.
Wise says colonoscopies remain the “gold standard” for testing because of their accuracy and ability to both diagnose and remove polyps during the same procedure. However, there are a variety of screening options available and patients should talk to their physicians about what is best for them.
A family history of colorectal cancer may mean that screening should begin earlier. Generally, people with a history of colorectal cancer in their families should begin screenings 10 years before the age at which their relatives were diagnosed, Wise says. “It’s important for people to talk about these things so future generations know what’s out there.”
Other factors associated with colorectal cancer include a high-fat, low fiber diet, along with alcohol and tobacco use, obesity and conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease.
It’s also important to talk about symptoms of colorectal cancer with your physician, even though they may feel embarrassing to discuss. Symptoms include:
· rectal bleeding
· a change in bowel habits
· not feeling emptied after a bowel movement
· mucus in the stool
· gas and bloating
· unexplained weight loss
· abdominal pain
Rectal bleeding is the most common symptom of cancer in younger people, who often attribute it to hemorrhoids. “For the vast majority it is, but it should not be ignored,” Wise says. “You should not write it off, and don’t let your doctor write it off. You deserve some examination – there should be an index of suspicion whenever there is bleeding.”
Colorectal cancer causes affects about 18,000 people under age 50 each year. Wise has treated patients as young as 18 years old.
Wise urges people of any age not to ignore symptoms because the sooner the disease is caught, the better the chance for a cure and a healthy life. The five-year survival rate for localized colorectal cancer is more than 90 percent, compared to 15 percent for cancer that has spread to distant areas of the body, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Treatment for colorectal cancer includes surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy with radiofrequency ablation and cryosurgery sometimes used for metastatic disease. Newer treatments include targeted therapy, which identifies and attacks specific cancer cells and immunotherapy, which harnesses the body’s natural immune system to disable cancer cells.
To schedule a screening and view a checkup checklist so you can keep making plans for a healthy future, click here.