In honor of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, the highly-trained specialists at Rochester Colon-rectal Surgeons, P.C. have compiled this list of colorectal cancer fast facts to help educate patients on the importance of regular screenings. If you have more questions or would like to schedule a screening, contact our office in Rochester, NY at (585) 222-6566 today!
Colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S.
Colorectal cancer affects both men and women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Though the leading cause of death in Americans is heart disease, cancer is the 2nd most common reason for death. Of all cancer deaths, about 10% are due to colorectal cancer. This means approximately 50,000 people in the U.S. die from colorectal cancer each year. That’s about 140 people across the country every day.
Routine screening may prevent colorectal cancer.
Colonoscopy and other screening modalities can save your life or the life of someone you care about. Colonoscopy can prevent colorectal cancer by detecting and removing polyps (small, abnormal tissue growths inside the colon) before they turn into cancer. Screening also can help you by detecting colorectal cancer while it may still be at an early stage when treatment is most likely to be effective. The 5-year survival (cure) rate for patients in whom cancer is detected and treated at an early stage can be as high as 90-95%. Unfortunately, survival predictably decreases as the stage of the cancer at the time of detection becomes more advanced.
Age over 45 years is the #1 risk factor for colorectal cancer.
The vast majority (up to 90%) of colorectal cancers occur in both men and women 45 years old or older. The risk for developing colorectal cancer increases with age. Recent research has shown that the previous recommended screening age (50 years old) was too late. An increasing number of cancer cases across the nation had been found in patients under 50, leading to a lowering of the recommended age to 45.
There may be warning signs.
Colorectal cancer is known as a silent killer. But there may be signals that something is wrong that you should not ignore. Examples of symptoms that some people experience include a change in their usual bowel habits, seeing blood in the stool, diarrhea, constipation, or a sensation of incompletely evacuating stool when moving your bowels. Other concerning signs include unexplained weight loss, nausea, vomiting and severe fatigue. If you experience any of these symptoms, please contact our office as soon as possible.
Lifestyle choices can affect your risk of cancer.
There are many risk factors that you do not have any control over, such as your genetic makeup. But there are many risks you do have some control over which are associated with colorectal cancer risk. Losing weight if your Body Mass Index (BMI) is over 30, quitting smoking, minimizing your use of alcohol, limiting your intake of processed and red meats, increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, and dietary fiber, and increasing your activity level and exercise can all favorably affect your risk of colorectal cancer.
Speaking of genetics…
If you have a first degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) who has had colorectal cancer, or precancerous polyps earlier than age 45, your risk of developing polyps and cancer is 2 to 5 times more than the general population. Genetic testing is available at our office for patients who may fit a profile suspicious for an inherited form of colorectal cancer.
Screening rates vary.
Believe it or not, a large fraction of the population over age 45 is not current with the recommended screening guidelines. On average, only about 2 out of every 3 people at risk for colorectal cancer have taken the initiative to undergo a screening test. This varies considerably by geographic location, with just 40% of people in parts of Alaska, up to 80% of people in parts of Florida, who have taken the lead in their colorectal health. Some of the reason for this is attributable to access to medical care, but screening rates mainly vary in relation to different educational and economic status. Understandably, cost is a big obstacle to obtaining proper care for some people. The Affordable Care Act includes a mandate that colorectal cancer screening in patients who fit age criteria shall be covered for you with no out of pocket cost. Check with your insurance carrier for details of what your specific plan benefits may be. Many people also fear having an invasive diagnostic test or doing the bowel prep. Luckily, there is a solution for almost any concern you may have in mind … see the next paragraph for more information!
You have options.
Although colonoscopy remains the gold standard screening test against which all other tests are compared, you do have options on how to complete your screening. Alternatives to colonoscopy include sigmoidoscopy, virtual (CT scan) colonography, air-contrast barium enema x-ray, and stool card testing for microscopic traces of blood or polyp and cancer DNA. However, only colonoscopy allows for direct visual examination of the entire colon and rectum combined with the ability to simultaneously remove any polyps as they are seen.
If you have any questions about your risk of colorectal cancer or would like to schedule an appointment to have a colonoscopy, please call our office, (585) 222-6566. We’d be pleased to help you.