Calling Attention to Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month recognized in March and screenings like colonoscopy urged

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) If a screening could not just identify, but actually prevent cancer, you'd make an appointment, right? Experts are reminding the public that this can be the case for colorectal cancer.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and increased awareness of both the disease and steps to prevent it are being highlighted.

Public health officials are reminding the public about screenings for the condition, typically recommended for adults over the age of 50.

"Talk to your doctor about options for colorectal cancer screening."

The term colorectal cancer refers to cancer of the colon and rectum and is sometimes simply referred to as colon cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), most colorectal cancers begin not as cancer, but as polyps. Polyps are growths in the inner lining of the colon or rectum, some of which can develop into cancer. If these polyps are caught and removed early, cancer may be prevented.

The risk for this type of cancer increases with age, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 90 percent of colorectal cancer cases occur in people aged 50 or older.

Factors like a history of irritable bowel disease, family history of colorectal cancer, lack of exercise, obesity, smoking and heavy alcohol use have also been tied to an increased risk for colorectal cancer.

ACS estimated that in 2014, there will be about 96,830 new cases of colon cancer, 40,000 new cases of rectal cancer and 50,310 deaths from colorectal cancer.

The CDC reported that of the cancers that affect both genders, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the US.

Though the condition is very common, ACS noted that the case and death rates have been on the decline, thanks in large part to colorectal cancer screening.

Through screening, those precancerous polyps can sometimes be identified and removed before cancer has a chance to develop. In cases where cancer has already developed, the earlier it can be identified and treated, the better.

"Getting a colonoscopy or some form of colorectal cancer screening is important because it can save your life," Neville Fernandes, MD, a gastroenterologist on medical staff at Baylor Medical Center at Irving, told dailyRx News.

"A colonoscopy can detect and remove polyps before they are able to develop into colon cancer. In addition, it can also detect early stages of colon cancer when the disease may certainly be more treatable. It is a simple and common procedure that saves lives and certainly prevents the need for surgery, chemotherapy and problems down the road," said Dr. Fernandes.

"The frequency of colon cancer is on the rise and unfortunately many patients may not have any symptoms until it is too late. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 60 percent of deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented if everyone age 50 or older were screened," he said.

According to CDC, "You should begin screening for colorectal cancer soon after turning 50, then keep getting screened regularly until the age of 75. Ask your doctor if you should be screened if you're older than 75."

According to CDC, there are several different screenings tests for colorectal cancer, including colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy and stool tests. People can discuss screening options with their doctor to determine which method is best for them.

"Doctors will take into account a number of things when they talk to you about the tests you should have, how often you should have them, and when you should begin testing," explained ACS. "If you are at increased or high risk, the type of test used and how often it is done will depend on whether you have had polyps, cancer, or certain other diseases, as well as your family history."

Review Date: 
March 3, 2014
Last Updated:
March 10, 2014