Colorectal Cancer Screening Saves Lives

March is National Colon & Rectum Cancer Awareness Month. This post is the first installment of a two part series to promote colorectal cancer awareness. 

Colorectal is the third-leading cancer cause of death among men and women in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that 50,000 patients will die of colorectal cancer in 2015. Like many cancers, colorectal cancer is more likely to result in death if it is not detected early. Fortunately, excellent screening exams for colorectal cancer are available for early detection and help to prevent deaths from colorectal cancer. 

What is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancers begin in the colon or rectum, which are the final tract in or digestive systems. The colon is also known as the large intestine and the rectum is the passageway connecting the colon to the anus. Colon cancers generally start as polyps which are, abnormal growths that occur in the colon and rectum.

When detected early, colorectal cancer is often treated successfully. Surgery can be used to remove sections of the colon or rectum when colorectal cancer is detected in early stages. Chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy are often used in combination with surgery in patients with more advanced cancers.

How Should You Be Screened for Colorectal Cancer?

As of 2008, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends colorectal cancer screening in men and women between the ages of 50 to 75. The USPSTF identified three separate methods for colorectal cancer screening. These include:

  • High-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing every 1 year.
  • Sigmoidoscopy every 5 years with high-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing every 3 years.
  • Colonoscopy every 10 years.

To determine these screening guidelines, USPSTF researchers reviewed numerous scholarly articles. These guidelines were published November 2008 in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Colorectal cancer mortality rates decreased by about 30 percent from 2001 to 2010, according to a 2014 American Cancer Society report, Colorectal Cancer Facts & Figure 2014-2016. The decrease in mortality rates correlated with an increase in screening rates, primarily with colonoscopy. The number of patients aged 50 to 75 screened with colonoscopy exams increased from 19 percent in 2000 to 55 percent in 2010.

Despite the potentially life-saving benefits of colorectal cancer screening, fewer than 60 percent of patients aged 50 or older receive recommended screening. We recommend that, to reduce their risk, patients speak with their physicians about colorectal cancer screening options appropriate for their individual health. 

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