March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month. This article is to help increase the awareness of this type of cancer in the community. The primary goal will be to reduce the incidence of this cancer in the community by encouraging more people to go for screening. We all may have known a relative, friend, co-worker or associate who may have had colorectal cancer. This disease can be prevented or detected early if you know your risks and/or follow the advice of your doctor, friend or relative to have yourself screened. It is heartbreaking for me anytime I see an older patient referred to me with symptoms suspicious of this disease for confirmation. Many times the cancer is already advanced. It would have been a different and better story if he or she would have had the screening at earlier rather than a later age.
Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women in the United States. Incidence of colorectal cancer is estimated to be approximately 145,000, with men and women having an almost equal percentage. Prevalence is slightly more with women when it comes to the colon and more with men when it comes to the rectum. Colorectal cancer is the second cause of cancer deaths in the United States. It is said that about 50,000 Americans will die from this disease this year. This large number cannot be ignored.
Several risk factors have been identified that increase a person’s chances of developing colorectal cancer. However absence of risk factors does not mean that an individual will not develop colorectal cancer.
There are some risk factors that will raise the alarm to initiate screening. The lifetime risk for developing colorectal cancer is approximately 1 in 19 (5.4 percent). It helps to know your risks. Risk factors include age. More than 90 percent of individuals with this type of cancer are 50 and older. Large intestinal polyps, family history of colon cancer, and personal history of cancer of the breast, ovary, uterine and colon are other risk factors. Some familial genetic colorectal disorders, chronic inflammatory bowel diseases of the colon and rectum are to be noted in the individual’s history.
Individuals who smoke, indulge in heavy alcohol consumption, have reduced exercise activity, high fat and caloric diet, and low fiber diet have been linked to increased risk for colorectal cancer.
Symptoms usually present when the cancer is already large and advanced. These include iron deficiency anemia, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain and bowel obstruction.
Diagnosis is confirmed by undergoing a colonoscopy and taking biopsies. Radiologic evaluation is used to help stage the disease. A cancer marker test from the blood also helps in the short and long-term management of this disease.
Colorectal cancer is curable, however, the more advanced the cancer is, the less your chance of achieving cure. More advanced cancer may indicate need for chemo-radiation therapy.
Prevention is the key. It is the primary goal in our fight against colorectal cancer. Removing polyps from the colon and rectum is the only way this cancer can be prevented. Colonoscopy and flexible sigmoidoscopy are the only screening tests used to remove polyps.
The national goal to get a modest 70 percent of the community to have regular screening based on national guidelines have not been achieved yet, including our community. Recent studies indicate that less than 59 percent of patients at risk have some form of screening. Many factors, which include lack of awareness and education, patient’s reluctance because of the bowel prep and complications, are a few mentioned by at-risk patients. The benefits, however, far outweigh the risk.
This article hopefully will raise the awareness that this cancer is preventable. Prevention is always better and cheaper than cure. It is never “too late” to get screened. However it is always better to start at the recommended age.
Please get screened. Let us join together and drive out COLORECTAL CANCER from our communities, families and homes. Those who have had screening should encourage their spouses, siblings, children, parents, relatives and friends to get some form of screening. Spread the word. Prevention is the goal! Talk to your doctor about colorectal cancer screening.
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