Early Colorectal Cancer Screening Important

  • Published
  • By Deborah Thornton
  • Civilian Health Promotion Services
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and the Centers for Disease Control and Management (CDC) estimates that as many as sixty percent of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented if all men and women aged 50 years or older were screened routinely.

Cancer of the colon or rectum, referred to as colorectal cancer, is the 2nd highest cause of death for men and women in the United States. However, when found early through screening, it is highly curable and in many cases preventable. Because colorectal cancer can have no symptoms in the early stages, the key to detection is through screening beginning at age 50 and repeated every 5 to 10 years as directed by your physician. Earlier screening may be advised if you have a history of inflammatory bowel disease or a family history of polyps or colorectal cancer. In females a history of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, or polyps in themselves or family members is also a reason to start screenings earlier than age 50. Colorectal cancer often begins as polyps or benign growths in the surface of the colon and removing these polyps early prevents them from becoming cancerous.

Symptoms that may indicate later stage cancer can include rectal bleeding, stomach pain or change in bowel habits resulting in constipation or diarrhea. These symptoms should be reported to your physician immediately.

The best type of screening is a colonoscopy. This is a painless procedure that may take place on an outpatient basis, and does not take a large amount of time. A light anesthesia is used, and a tiny camera is sent through the colon where it can detect abnormalities and polyps. If polyps are found, they can be removed at this time without difficulty. The scope, in which the camera is attached, also has a small loop that is placed around the polyp to remove it by shaving it off the lining of the colon. The polyp is sent to a lab for biopsy, which will reveal if it is cancerous or benign. It is important to know that benign polyps may turn cancerous if not detected and removed early.

A virtual colonoscopy uses CT scan images to construct a 3-D model of the colon. It can detect polyps, tumors and other abnormalities just as a colonoscopy using a camera does. The main drawback is that if a polyp is found, even a small one, a colonoscopy will then be needed to remove and evaluate the polyp.

X-rays of the colon can also be performed using barium as a contrast agent. The barium is inserted through an enema and must be held in the colon until the x-rays are completed. Again if any polyps, tumors or abnormalities are found, a colonoscopy must be done to remove and evaluate the polyp.

The CDC encourages that colorectal cancer survival rates are high when detected early.
The American Cancer Society recommends regular physical activity and exercise along with achieving and maintaining a healthy weight and, while not conclusive, some medical experts recommend a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fruits, vegetables and grains in order to reduce risk. This type of diet, according to the CDC, may reduce the risk of other chronic conditions as well, such as coronary artery disease or diabetes.

Taking these steps along with routine colonoscopy screening, may reduce your odds of developing colorectal cancer. Talk with your doctor soon about this simple yet effective evaluation.