Among adults, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States. It is also the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths every year.
These statistics generally mean very little to the average person until they are faced with a colorectal cancer diagnosis. Then, at least initially, nothing else seems more significant.
Fortunately, the overall prognosis is quite favorable if colorectal cancer is discovered early. Up to 90 percent of patients whose colorectal cancer is diagnosed and treated in the early stages can be cured.
Most colon and rectal cancers begin as adenomas, or small polyps, that can progress over time and invade the wall of the bowel. In their later stages, colon and rectal cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body.
Know your risk for colorectal cancerRoughly 75 percent of colorectal cancers occur in individuals who have an average risk of developing the disease. However, certain factors have been identified that can increase your risk, including:
- Age: Most people diagnosed with colorectal cancer are over 50.
- A personal history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer
- Inflammatory bowel disease: Chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, can increase the risk of colorectal cancer.
- Family history of colorectal cancer: First-degree relatives of individuals with colorectal cancer are at increased risk of developing cancer themselves.
- Inherited colorectal cancer syndromes: Genetic syndromes present in some families, such as, familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), can increase the risk of colon cancer.
- Racial/Ethnic background: African Americans have a higher incidence of colorectal cancer as compared to other groups in the United States.
- Lifestyle factors: A diet high in fat and low in fiber as well as obesity can increase the risk for colorectal cancer.
Colorectal screening saves livesSince the early 1980s, the mortality from colorectal cancer has decreased steadily in the United States. In large part, these declines can be attributed to increased awareness and more pervasive screening. However, recent data show that one in three adults between the ages of 50 and 75 are not up to date on recommended screening for colorectal cancer.
Common screening tests for individuals of average risk include:
Fecal occult blood test - recommended annually
Flexible sigmoidoscopy OR double contrast barium enema - recommended every five years
Colonoscopy - recommended every 10 years
Screening should begin at age 50 for the average person.
Other modalities such as CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) and stool DNA testing are also being used but have not been widely adopted.
Individuals at increased risk (see risk factors outlined above) should be screened more frequently with colonoscopy.
Watch CANPrevent Colorectal Cancer – a conference designed to help those at risk for colorectal cancer.
March is colorectal cancer awareness month – learn more.