Community Blog

March is Colon Cancer Month

By Vicki Crow

This is a very real and profound truth; colon cancer remains a dangerous and deadly disease. Despite the progress made combating this disease, the fact is, the American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates there will be more than 100,000 new cases of colon cancer and more than 44,000 cases of rectal cancer diagnosed in 2019 and that about 51,000 people will die as a result of the disease.

As March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, we want to take the time to help raise awareness about colorectal cancer.

Did you know colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women and the second most common cause of cancer death when men and women are combined? But what if I told you there was something you could do about this startling statistic?

It is a fact that the death rate related to colon cancer has been dropping for many years, and the ACS estimates nearly 50 percent of deaths are preventable with effective screening. The mortality rate decreasing is likely due to screenings finding and removing polyps, the precursor to most colon cancer, or finding cancer at a much earlier and treatable stage. In fact, a study by Yale University shows that screenings have helped prevent half a million cases of the disease since the mid-1970s. Screening saves lives.

It is unfortunately common to see patients who have declined to be screened, and to subsequently be diagnosed with colon cancer. From a practitioner point of view, that is as frustrating as it gets. Take the case of Dr. Andrew Albert, a gastroenterologist in Chicago who lost a patient to a colon cancer who had declined to be screened. Angered but inspired to not let this event pass, he wrote on a piece of cardboard, “Lost a patient to colon cancer. Did not need to happen! Get your colonoscopy!” He taped it to his back and took to his bicycle, riding the streets of Chicago to publicize this issue. His efforts have garnered significant attention to the issue and he was recently named one of Chicago’s 20 most inspiring residents.

Yes, colon cancer screenings can seem scary at first, but screening options have come a long way in recent years! While most people think they have to get a colonoscopy, that is only one of several options that are presently available if you’re not comfortable getting a colonoscopy.

Alternative options include:

• Stool testing: A stool specimen is collected at home and sent out for testing. The tests look for the presence of abnormal  DNA or blood in the sample.

• Imaging testing

• Virtual colonoscopy: A small, passable camera is swallowed that shows the physician the same information as a       colonoscopy. The only difference is the camera is taken orally.

• Barium enema: An X-ray exam that can detect changes or abnormalities in the large intestine (colon).

Since developments have led to more options for colon cancer screening, there really is no excuse to not get one. Colon cancer screenings typically start at age 50 for those at an average risk. However, for those with a family history of colon cancer or certain diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, screenings may need to start earlier. Your doctor will advise at what age you should get your first screening. The choice of testing should be a joint decision between you and your doctor since the best screening test is the one that gets done.

Colorectal cancer screening doesn’t have to be a scary process. Your primary care physician can help determine your risk and recommend you to a gastroenterologist if they believe your family history or current health issues are concerning. Remember, screening for colon cancer saves lives.

Learn more by visiting: Colorectal Cancer Alliance