March is colorectal cancer awareness month. Cancer screening is highly effective in detecting and preventing colorectal cancer. As we take this very seriously, below, C3 for Change is providing 6 things you should know about colorectal cancer, including the risks, symptoms, and screening benefits. Read the article below to find out more information.
Colorectal cancer screening is highly effective in detecting and preventing colon and rectal cancers, the third leading cause of cancer death among men and women in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And yet, one-third of Americans, ages 50 and older, have not been screened.
“Screening saves lives and can prevent colon cancer,” said Susanne Shokoohi, MD, a gastroenterologist at Loyola Medicine and assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. Colorectal death rates have declined over the past 15 years, due to better detection and treatment, despite the fact that “one out of three Americans is not meeting colorectal screening guidelines.
1. All adults, beginning at age 50, should be screened for colorectal cancer
African Americans should begin screening at age 45, as they are at higher risk for colon cancer. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all adults, ages 50 to 75, be screened for colorectal cancer, a procedure that is covered by private insurance and Medicare. In addition to African Americans, adults with a familial history of colorectal cancer, a genetic predisposition for the disease, and/or a history of inflammatory bowel or Crohn’s disease, are at higher risk for colorectal cancer and should be screened earlier.
“Usually, when you turn 50, colorectal cancer screening is something your primary care doctor discusses with you,” says Dr. Shokoohi. “If you have higher risk factors, you usually start the conversation earlier. And of course, if you have symptoms, talk to your doctor.”
2. A colonoscopy is the most effective method of detecting and preventing colon cancer
While there are several colorectal screening options, including in-home stool testing or a CT colonography, a colonoscopy—a minimally invasive procedure that allows medical staff to view your entire large intestine—is the most common and effective modality for the detection of cancer, and the detection and removal of any precancerous cell growth, or polyps.
“The goal is to remove the polyp before it becomes cancerous,” says Dr. Shokoohi. “If cancer is detected, we are often finding it at an early stage—before symptoms arise—allowing us to treat the disease more effectively.”
If no polyps or other irregularities are found, the procedure does not need to be repeated for another 10 years.
3. Colorectal cancer is rising among younger adults
While more than 90% of colorectal cancers are diagnosed in patients over age 50, a 2019 study found a small, but the alarming rise in colorectal cancer rates in adults ages 20 to 40.
“We are seeing a jump in the 20 to 40 age group,” says Dr. Shokoohi. “And we’re not sure if the cause is genetics, obesity or diet. I would advise patients in this age group to not ignore any symptoms, and to talk to your doctor right away if any symptoms arise.”
4. It’s important to know the symptoms of colorectal cancer
Adults, especially those with any risk factors, should be aware of the following symptoms:
- Rectal bleeding
- Any changes in bowel habits, such as constipation, loose stools or diarrhea
- Unintended weight loss
- Abdominal pain that is new or ongoing
- Weakness and loss of appetite
5. Diet and lifestyle choices can help prevent colorectal cancer
A diet high in fruits, vegetables, fiber, and fish can prevent colorectal cancer – a diet high in processed meats, such as bacon, ham and hot dogs—is linked to a higher rate of colorectal cancer.
In addition, obesity, smoking, heavy alcohol use, and physical inactivity also are risk factors for colorectal cancer. The prevention of colorectal cancer is another reason “for people to get out and about and move,” says Dr. Shokoohi.
6. It’s easy to schedule a colonoscopy, and it’s never too late to have your first screening
There are a variety of reasons that adults may not have yet scheduled a colonoscopy, says Dr. Shokoohi. “Their providers may not recommend it, people are getting lost in the system, or they’ve had multiple jobs” and inconsistent health insurance. “These adults should at least talk to their doctor about the benefits of colorectal cancer screening.
A colonoscopy takes just one day in your life and it can be lifesaving.