More than 150,000 Americans develop colorectal cancer each year, making it the second most common cancer related cause of death in the United States.
The good news is that colorectal cancer is preventable, detectable and if found early, treatable.
According to the American Cancer Society, 9 out of 10 times early treatment saves lives and the five-year survival rate for colon cancer if caught early is 90%. This is why regular screening to detect cancer at its earliest – and most treatable stage – is so important.
“Early screening, especially with colonoscopy, holds the promise of saving lives,” said Mark A. Lewis, MD, a medical oncologist and director of gastrointestinal oncology at Intermountain Healthcare. “Many colorectal cancers begin as a small polyp, and if a polyp is found during colonoscopy, it can be removed, preventing the polyp from ever turning into cancer. Thus, colonoscopy can serve as both a screening and preventive tool.”
Colon cancer screening should begin at age 45 for most people, but understanding family history, genetics, and other risk factors can also help patients and doctors determine when to individualize care and screen earlier.
The Affordable Care Act requires private insurers and Medicare to cover the costs of colorectal cancer screenings as a preventive service, but coverage may still vary. Check with your insurance provider regarding your coverage.
In the early stages of colorectal cancer, there may also be no symptoms. This is another reason why it’s important to know the risk factors associated with colorectal cancer and talk to your doctor about when is the right time to get screened.
- Family History – If you have a close relative who has had colon cancer or a colon polyp, you may be at higher risk for getting the disease.
- Age – About 90% of the time, colorectal cancer occurs in adults older than 45. However, colorectal cancer rates are rising in people who are in their 40’s. “One in seven of the patients in my oncology practice dealing with colon cancer are under the age of 50, when screening traditionally begins,” said Dr. Lewis. “Young people with abdominal pain and gastrointestinal bleeding need to see a doctor and be screened.”
- Ethnicity – Rates of colorectal cancer are higher in African Americans compared with other races. This may be because fewer African Americans get screened for colon cancer.
- Medical Conditions – Having an inflammatory bowel disease may increase your risk of developing colon cancer.
- Lifestyle – There are some risk factors you can change. These include stopping smoking, improving your diet, being active, and keeping a healthy weight.
“Cancer doesn’t care who you are,” said Dr. Lewis. “Cancer used to be considered a disease of aging. It is not. Cancer has no respect for age or gender or race or creed.”