March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. It’s an opportunity to learn more about the disease and share what you know. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, colorectal cancer is the 3rd most commonly diagnosed cancer, and the 3rd leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. Colorectal cancer, cancer that occurs in the colon (large intestines) and rectum, is typically slow growing. With proper screening and early diagnosis, the outlook for people with this disease is usually hopeful.
According to Healthline, here are some facts to consider: About 140,000 people in the U.S. get colorectal cancer every year; The outlook for people with the disease has been improving for a few decades, largely due to screening; You can get colorectal cancer at any age, but more than 90% develop it when they’re at least 50 yrs old; Precancerous polyps and early-stage colorectal cancers don’t always cause symptom; Bloody stool, abdominal pain, and weight loss are symptoms of colorectal cancer.
Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests look for cancer in people who don’t (or do) have symptoms. They can find and remove precancerous growths or early-stage cancers when they’re easier to treat. They are often covered by health insurance. For people at average risk of developing colorectal cancer, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends screening starting at age 50 and continuing to age 75. Your healthcare provider can make personalized recommendations on when you get screened based on your: family history of colorectal cancer, personal medical history, prior screening history, personal preferences, life expectancy.
Screening Tests include non-invasive ones that check your stool: (1) Fecal Immunochemical Test – uses antibodies to detect blood in the stool, may need to be repeated annually. (2) Guaiac-based Fecal Occult Blood Test – uses chemical to see whether there’s blood in the stool, may need to be repeated every yr. (3) Stool DNA Test – looks for both blood and DNA mutations, usually needs to be repeated every 3 yrs. (4) Cologuard (the only stool-DNA screening test for detecting colon cancer that’s approved by the FDA), checks stool for symptoms of colon cancer and polyps. It is for some people who are at average risk. Imaging Tests are usually performed at a clinic or a hospital and involve some bowel prep and sedation. Flexible Sigmoidoscopy – flexible tube with camera is inserted through the anus and into the lower part of the colon to allow the doctor to see inside. If abnormal tissue is found, it can be removed at that time. Virtual Colonoscopy – uses advanced CT scanning of the colon and rectum to look for abnormalities. Colonoscopy – involves inserting long flexible tube and advancing it to view the entire length of the colon. A biopsy of abnormal tissue or the removal of polyps can be done at this time. If no abnormalities are found, you don’t generally need to repeat the Sigmoidoscopy or Virtual Colonoscopy for 5 yrs. A Colonoscopy that finds no abnormalities typically gets repeated after 10 yrs.
In recent years, there have been promising advances in treatment options for colorectal cancers. Talk with your healthcare provider to see if, and when, you should get screened. And wear BLUE this month!
Wishing you health in mind, body and spirit, and a safe,healthy,hopeful Spring.
~Lyn Florio, RN