Mar. 10, 2022

Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

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March is dedicated to National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. The month offers everyone a chance to learn more about the diseases of the colon and rectum that impact thousands of patients and their families each year. Efforts are focused on promoting awareness of the importance of colorectal cancer screening, prevention, and treatment.

Fight for MORE

The Fight Colorectal Cancer organization is adopting the slogan "Fight for MORE" during this year's awareness event. The group estimates by 2030, colorectal cancer is expected to be the No. 1 cancer killer for people 20-49 years old. "We fight for more this Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month because our current standards are not enough," explains the opening paragraph on their homepage.

Their message addresses a need to fight for more research, more accessibility to screenings, and more treatment options. All these steps result in more lives being saved as CRC is preventable with screenings and affordable take-home options.

How Many People Are Diagnosed with Colorectal Cancer Each Year?

According to Cancer.net, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women yearly in the United States, excluding skin cancer.

Just last month the Cancer.net Editorial Board released estimated figures of how many adults will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the United States this year. An estimated 151,030 adults will find out they have colorectal cancer.

Those numbers can be broken down even more between colon cancer and rectum cancer. Colon cancer will make up 106,180 new cases with 54,040 diagnosed to men and 52,140 diagnosed to women. Rectal Cancer will account for 44,850 new cases with 26,650 diagnosed to men and 18,200 diagnosed to women.

Early Detection Saves Lives: A Survivor's Story

“I never would have found it early if I hadn't been screened,” says colorectal cancer survivor Robert on the Centers for Disease Control website. Because Robert's father battled colorectal cancer at age 45, Robert knew the value of getting screened. He got a colonoscopy and it showed that he also had cancer like his father. Robert's story is shared to encourage others to get checked because early detection can save lives.

“People tell me that they are scared to get screened, but I think it's scarier if you have a tumor that the doctor can't remove,” Robert said. “If I hadn't been screened, I wouldn't have been able to see my son go off to college or enjoy this next chapter of my life with my wife and family.”

How to Get Checked for Colorectal Cancer

The American Cancer Society outlines the types of options available to people who want to be checked for colorectal cancer. No matter which choice you choose, the important thing is getting checked.

Tests are grouped into two categories: stool-based and visual tests. Stool-based tests look at feces for signs of cancer or precancer. These can be easier to do and are the least invasive. They should be done more often than other types of tests. Visual tests allow the doctor to see inside the colon and rectum for areas that may be cancer or polyps. Preparation is needed prior to a visual test and there could be some risk involved with these types of procedures.

Types of Stool-Based Tests

Fecal immunochemical test, or FIT, can be done at home. It is used to find tiny amounts of blood in the stool. Blood can be a sign of cancer or polyps. Typically, this test is done every year.

Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test, or gFOBT, also is used to find blood in the stool. There may be restrictions and foods to avoid before taking this test several days prior. This is designed to be a yearly test.

Stool DNA Testing looks for DNA or gene changes in cells that can get into the stool. It can also find blood in the stool. An at-home kit allows stool sample collection that can be mailed to a lab. This type of test is done once every three years.

Types of Visual Tests

Colonoscopy is a common visual test used to look at the colon and rectum to find precancerous cells and areas that may be cancer. A camera attached to a flexible lighted tube is inserted in the anus and can help the doctor see the entire length of the colon and rectum. The colon must be empty to perform this test so preparation must be done prior. Medication can be given to help a person relax during the test. If nothing abnormal is found while testing, a person with average risk can expect to be tested once every 10 years.

A CT colonography, also called a virtual colonoscopy, is a scan of the colon and rectum to look for polyps or cancer. Preparation to clean the bowel is needed, but there is no reason to expect sedation for this procedure. This is done once every five years. If the doctors find something, you might need to schedule a follow-up colonoscopy.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy is rarely used in the United States for screening because it looks at less than half of the colon and rectum. Prep is needed, but no sedation. Like the CT colonography, it is scheduled every five years and may require a follow-up colonoscopy if something suspicious is found.

Talk to Your Doctor

The first step in preventing colorectal cancer is regular screening. Your doctor can help you decide the right time and method to use to start screening for colorectal cancer. The answer will be based on your risk factors and family history. People with normal risk factors will usually begin testing at age 45. People at higher risk may need to start screening earlier than age 45 or be screened more often to stay safe.

The good news is polyps can typically be removed before they turn into cancer if found during the screenings mentioned above. The same rationale is applied to finding cancer early. When cancer is smaller and found early, it is oftentimes easier to treat. That is why it's so important to get checked regularly.

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