Colorectal cancer (refers to cancer originating in the colon or rectum) is currently the second leading cause of cancer-related death for both men and women in the United States. Each year, nearly 140,000 people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than 50,000 will eventually succumb to their disease.
Who is at Risk for Colorectal Cancer?
As you age, your risk of developing this deadly disease increases. In fact, studies on colorectal cancer have shown that more than 90 percent of all cases have been diagnosed in people who are older than 50. Fortunately, screening tests can detect this disease at an earlier stage when it can be treated effectively. Unfortunately, health care officials fear that there are many at risk people who are not being screened according to the national guidelines.
If you are at least 50 years old, then getting screened for colorectal cancer could potentially save your life and here’s why:
- These screenings can identify colorectal cancer at an earlier stage, when it can still be treated.
- These screening tests can also uncover precancerous polyps, which can then be removed before they become cancer and metastasize.
What are the Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer?
As many people have found, colorectal cancer or precancerous polyps don’t always produce any noticeable symptoms, at least not during the initial stages. This means that you could have this deadly disease, and not even know it. This is why it is so imperative that you get screened after you have turned 50. The symptoms of colorectal cancer could include any of the following:
- Abdominal or stomach pain, cramping, or aches that do not recede.
- The presence of blood in or on the stool following a bowel movement.
- An abnormal or unexplained loss of weight.
It is important to note that many of these symptoms could be caused by some other type of medical complication. So, please be sure to schedule an appointment with your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.
When Should You Get Screened for Colorectal Cancer?
As mentioned earlier, people who are between the ages of 50 and 75 should be getting routine screenings for colorectal cancer. In some cases, doctors may recommend that their patients continue getting screened even after they reach 75 years of age. Some people may have a higher risk of developing this type of cancer based on certain underlying factors. It is worth discussing your options with your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Family history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Genetic syndromes, such as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome) and familial adenomatous polyposis
If you believe that you may be at risk for colorectal cancer, discuss your concerns with your doctor as he/she may have some suggestions about getting tested.
What are the Tests for Colorectal Cancer?
There are currently several tests which can be used to screen for colorectal cancer. Some of these are conducted on their own, and others need to be performed together. Your doctor will be able to help you choose the most appropriate test based on your situation. According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the following tests are the most effective for identifying colorectal cancer:
- High-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT), stool test, or fecal immunochemical test (FIT) (annually)
- Sigmoidoscopy (once every 5 years)
- Colonoscopy (once every decade)
The CDC’s Screen for Life: National Colorectal Cancer Action Campaign has been helping to educate more men and women over the age of 50 about how important it is to go in for routine colorectal cancer screenings. In fact, this campaign is only the latest addition to what is called the Screen for Life resources which are made available for both patients and healthcare professionals. If you are interested in learning more, there will be a lot more brochures, fact sheets, and other materials made available to the public during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.