It’s not a topic for polite conversation: colon / rectal cancer or colorectal cancer. But, since early detection is the best way to combat the disease, it’s important that people think about the disease even if they don’t talk about it. March has been named National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month to draw attention to the importance of early detection and treatment.
“Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States,” said Dr. Bill Simpson. “According to statistics from the American Cancer Society, almost 150,000 people in this country were diagnosed with colorectal cancer least year. Cancer is an abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the body. Colorectal refers to the colon and rectum, which together make up the large intestine. Most colorectal cancer appears first as polyps or abnormal growths inside the colon or rectum. Over time, polyps can become cancerous.”
A number of risk factors have been identified which increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer. While some of these risk factors cannot be altered, others can be reduced through lifestyle modifications. Risk factors include:
- Age – 90% of colorectal cancers are diagnosed in people age 50 years or older.
- Family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps.
- Certain diseases of the intestines – i.e. inflammatory bowl disease – can increase the risk for colorectal cancer.
- Personal history – those previously diagnosed with colorectal cancer have a greater chance of recurrence. (For women, a previous diagnosis of breast, ovarian or uterine cancer can also indicate an increase in the risk for developing colorectal cancer.) In addition, a history of polyps or bowel disease can also increase risk.
- Diet – a high fat diet increases risk. A diet high in fruits and vegetables and whole grain foods can help reduce risk.
- Lifestyle – people who don’t exercise and who are overweight are also at increased risk. In addition, smoking and heavy use of alcohol have been identified as contributing factors in colorectal cancer occurrence.
However, 75 percent of all new patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer have no known risk factors for the disease. In its earliest stages, colorectal cancer produces no symptoms. Therefore, all men and women, age 50 and older, should be tested routinely for colorectal cancer. Those who are at increased risk should speak to their physician about starting screenings earlier or performing more frequent testing.
Several tests are recommended for early detection of colorectal cancer. Often several screening tests are combined to increase the ability to detect any problems during the earliest, most treatable stages.
- Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) – checks for occult or hidden blood in the stool. Most tests involve a test kit where samples are collected at home and mailed to a physician’s office or lab for analysis. This test is usually performed annually.
- Colonoscopy – this procedure is similar to the flexible sigmoidoscopy, except the tube used is longer and allows the doctor to see the entire colon. This procedure is often used to follow up on suspicious results from other testing methods. If no problems are found, it is typically recommended every ten years.
“Technologies such as virtual colonoscopy and stool DNA testing may become recognized in the future as good diagnostic tools,” concluded Simpson. “Until then, the best way to protect yourself is to visit with your physician about starting a regular screening program at or before you turn 50. With Early diagnosis and treatment, the five-year survival rate for colorectal cancer is 90 percent.”
Bill Simpson, M.D. specializes in gastroenterology and frequently performs colorectal procedures at Northeastern Health System. For more information on colorectal cancer, or to make an appointment with Dr. Simpson, call (918) 207.0025.