Dr. H. Drexel Dobson III
Despite being one of the most preventable forms of cancer, colorectal cancer continues to be the third leading cause of cancer-related death, claiming the lives of more than 50,000 Americans each year.
But the good news is that thanks to screenings and other life-saving preventative measures, almost 50% fewer people have died from colorectal cancer in recent years.
Over the past two years, the pandemic has forced many people to forego or postpone vital health checks and routine screenings. This is why it has never been more important to know the facts about the disease and to plan for screening today.
Here are 5 facts to know before you start:
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45 is the new 50
Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lowered the recommended age for colorectal screenings from 50 to 45 – a recognition that colorectal cancer increasingly affects people between the ages of 45 and 45. 49 years.
The reality of colorectal cancer is that regular screenings and early detection could make all the difference and save countless lives.
If caught early enough, 90% of patients will be successfully treated and return to normal health, compared to 50% when diagnosed at later stages.
Unfortunately, only 4 out of 10 cases are currently detected at an early stage.
Colon cancer does not know gender
Although men have a slightly higher risk of developing colorectal cancer than women (4.3% versus 4.0%), it can affect both men and women. In fact, women account for just over half of all colorectal cancer deaths each year.
Projections are easier than you think
Colonoscopies and other screenings may seem invasive or strenuous, but in reality, they’re routine tests that take less time than, say, the line at the DMV.
Colonoscopies usually take about 15 to 30 minutes and you can resume your normal activities the next day.
Other screening methods include the fecal occult blood test (a simple chemical test that can detect hidden blood in the stool), the stool test for DNA (which can detect polyps and colon cancers), flexible sigmoidoscopy (a visual examination of the rectum and lower colon, performed in a doctor’s office), double-contrast barium enema (barium x-rays), and digital rectal examination.
You should consult your healthcare provider to find out which procedure is right for you.
Screenings are usually covered by insurance
Most insurance plans and Medicare help pay for colorectal cancer screenings. Screening tests can also be covered by health insurance without deductible or co-payment.
Family history matters
If you have a history of colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, or ovarian, endometrial, or breast cancer in your family, you should talk to your doctor about starting screenings at a earlier age.
It should be noted, however, that 3 out of 4 new cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed in people with no family history of the disease. This is why regular screenings are particularly important.
Despite its current toll, colorectal cancer is a preventable disease with regular screenings, healthy diet, and regular physical activity.
If you, like many others, have postponed a screening during the pandemic, now is the time to talk to your healthcare provider and schedule one.
Through our collective efforts and vigilance, we can end the scourge of colorectal cancer as we know it.
Dr. Dobson is a general surgeon at Rockledge Regional Medical Center. He specializes in colorectal surgery.