When it comes to colorectal cancer, what you don’t know can hurt you. In fact, it can kill you. Although colorectal cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, it is very treatable when caught early. Sometimes, it also can be prevented through regular screenings. March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, serving as a reminder that the best defense against this deadly disease is early detection.
Of cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer isthe third most common cancer in men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But statistics from the American Cancer Society (ACS) show that detection of the cancer in its early stages before it has spread yields a five-year survival rate of approximately 90 percent, which underscores why healthcare professionals stress the benefits of colorectal cancer screening.
“There simply is no better way to battle this type of cancer than screening for early detection,” said Joseph R. Cali, M.D. a colorectal surgeon affiliated with at Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital and Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center. “Being proactive in colorectal screening could be the difference between life and death.”
The normal age to begin screening in men and women of average risk is 50. Heredity and family history, personal medical history and behavioral risk factors like obesity, physical inactivity, poor diet, alcoholism, smoking and long-term use of certain medications can increase your chance of getting colon or rectal cancer.
Despite this fact, the latest data from the ACS shows that only 60.1 percent of Texans 50 years or older have been screened for colorectal cancer. That puts Texas 41st among states and Washington, D.C. . In fact, only Massachusetts and New Hampshire have met the ACS’s goal of having 75 percent of adults age 50 years and older current on their colorectal screening.
Here are Dr. Cali’s top 10 reasons for average-risk individuals to schedule a colorectal screening:
The death rate of colorectal cancer has been steadily dropping for decades. One major reason is that colorectal polyps are found in screening and can be removed while they are pre-cancerous. It can take as long as 15 years before a polyp develops into colorectal cancer.
- Early detection
Only prevention is better than early detection. Remember, the five-year survival rate is nearly 90 percent when cancer is detected before it spreads beyond the colon and rectum. Cancer that is detected early before symptoms show is usually much easier to treat.
- Variety of screening options
While structural tests like sigmoidoscopies and colonoscopies are encouraged because they help detect pre-cancerous polyps as well as cancer. Stool tests like fecal occult blood tests (FBOT) and the fecal immunochemical test (FIT) are also used to detect cancer and are not invasive.
- Low frequency
Depending on the type of test, screening can be few and far between for average-risk individuals. The ACS suggests that an average-risk person needs a colonoscopy every 10 years. If the same person chooses another structural exam, that should be done every five years. Noninvasive stool tests don’t detect polyps but do detect cancer and can be done annually.
- Chances are that you’re covered
Colorectal cancer screening is covered under the Affordable Care Act as a preventive service with no co-pay required. All commercial health insurance plans cover colorectal cancer screening tests for all adults ages 50 to 75.
- Family benefit
Having more than one relative, or having a relative with a colorectal cancer diagnosis before the age of 45, greatly increases a person’s risk of colorectal cancer. A screening test can not only help determine if you have a cancerous polyp or cancer, it can also tell you if it is an inherited form of cancer. In either instance, future generations in your family will have a head start in their colorectal cancer prevention.
Prevention or early detection through proactive screening can help save on potential future costs of surgery, chemotheraphy, aftercare and time away from work.
- Peace of mind
The symptoms of colorectal cancer may not present until its late stages when it becomes much tougher to overcome. By following a recommended screening schedule, an average-risk person will likely catch pre-cancerous polyps or cancer in its early stages, or find out they have no symptoms. With either outcome, a person will know for sure whether or not they have colorectal cancer.
- Better alternative
Roughly one of every 20 people in the United States will have colorectal cancer at some point in their lives. For the percentage of people who are afflicted, the late stages of colorectal cancer can include chemotherapy, radiation, colostomy bags and surgery, all of which can adversely affect quality of life. Is abstaining from recommended screening worth the risk?
- It’s not just about you.
Following the recommended screening schedule sends two messages. First, you care about your health and wellbeing. It’s a great example to set. Despite the high success rate against colorectal cancer with early detection, only 40 percent of those cases are found this way. You can change that trend. Second, friends and family want you around. The best way to ensure you can continue to make memories with them is by taking care of yourself and taking the right steps when it comes to your health.