March is National Colorectal Cancer Month
By Jane Meggitt
Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. among those affecting both males and females. Many of these deaths could have been prevented had patients undergone regular colorectal cancer screenings. March is National Colorectal Cancer Month, a time to spread the word about the importance of regular screenings to save lives. The good news is that early detection of colorectal cancer can lead to successful treatment.
National Colorectal Cancer Month
March was first declared National Colorectal Cancer Month back in 1999. Perhaps no year since its inception has been as crucial as this one to encourage people to make screening appointments. That is because many people were unable to schedule screenings during the pandemic. Screenings plummeted in 2020 as COVID-19 kept people in lockdown and affected routine medical procedures of all types.
That is why it is especially vital to get colorectal cancer screening back on track as we make up for lost time.
Colorectal cancer occurs in either the colon or rectum. It is frequently referred to simply as colon cancer. Most of these cancers result from the growth of polyps. Polyps are cell clumps forming on the colon’s lining. Most polyps are harmless, but some can become malignant over time.
While anyone may develop colorectal cancer, and men and women are equally affected, it is more common in those aged 50 and up. Other risk factors include:
- High-fat diet
- History of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- Moderate to heavy alcohol use
- Type 2 diabetes
African-Americans are at a higher risk of colorectal cancer than other groups in the U.S, and also suffer the highest mortality rates. Those of Eastern European Jewish descent also have high colorectal cancer rates.
Colorectal Cancer Symptoms
Early symptoms of colorectal cancer are often vague or non-existent. Symptoms usually appear once the disease progresses, which makes regular screenings to catch early-stage colorectal cancer so critical.
Make an appointment with your doctor if experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Blood in the stool
- Changes in bowel habits
- Chronic abdominal discomfort
- Fatigue or weakness
- Rectal bleeding
- Unexplained weight loss
Colorectal Cancer Screenings
The CDC recommends regular colorectal cancer screenings beginning at age 50. Those under 50 with risk factors for colorectal cancer, such as a family history of the disease, should consult their doctor about when to begin regular screening.
Screenings consist of colonoscopy. In this procedure, the patient is sedated while the doctor views the entire rectum and colon through a tube known as a colonoscope. The doctor can perform a biopsy during the colonoscopy or remove polyps found in the intestine.
Colonoscopies are generally performed every five to ten years. When polyps were found on the previous screening, patients will require another screening on the closer end of that decade-long scale.
Less invasive screening methods are available, although they are not as accurate as colonoscopy. With these methods, the patient swabs a bowel movement sample and places it in a packet which is then sent to a lab for testing. Depending on the type of test, the patient may have to submit two or three stool samples. If blood is found in the stool sample, the patient is scheduled for a colonoscopy.
Virtual colonoscopies are available, although many insurers will not cover them. Computers and X-rays are used to take 2-and-3-D images of the rectum and colon. Patients do not require sedation. However, if a polyp is found, a colonoscopy is needed for removal.
Colorectal Cancer Treatment
Treatment for colorectal cancer depends on tumor location and its stage. Surgery is necessary for all colorectal cancers, but for early stage cancer no further treatment may prove necessary. For later stage colorectal cancer, treatment may also include:
While a colorectal screening is not anyone’s idea of a good time, do not put it off. It could save your life.
At Yosemite Pathology and Precision Pathology, we have been advancing anatomic pathology in the Western United States for over 70 years. We have grown to encompass more than 20 board certified anatomic pathology specialists with a broad range of specialties. For more information about our services, contact us today.
Jane Meggitt’s work has appeared in dozens of publications, including USA Today, Zack’s, Financial Advisor, nj.com, The Houston Chronicle and The Nest. She is a graduate of New York University.