The Good News about Colorectal Cancer: Screening Saves Lives

By: Kendall Reed, DO

Since March is designated as Colorectal Awareness month, it is a good time to share a few pertinent facts that every adult should be aware of regarding the prevention and cure of colorectal cancer.

Fact: In 2015, 132,000 patients in the U.S. were diagnosed with colorectal cancer which represents 8% of all cancers diagnosed in that year

Fact: Colorectal cancer is the 4th most common cancer diagnosed in the U.S. behind breast cancer (231,000 cases), lung cancer (220,000 cases), and prostate cancer (220,000 cases)

Fact: The number of new cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed each year has decreased by 3.7%/year for the past 10 years and the death rate has decreased by 2.8%/ year for the same period of time. Why? Colorectal Cancer Screening.

Fact: If you wait until the classic “warning signs” (blood in stool, change in bowel habits, abdominal pain) are present, the chances of cure are significantly diminished. That is why colorectal cancer screening is so critically important.

Fact: Colorectal cancer screening by colonoscopy is the ONLY currently available method that can actually prevent colorectal cancer. This is possible because a thorough colonoscopy is able to find and remove small benign (non-cancerous) polyps of the colon which is the starting point from which most, if not all, colorectal cancers begin.

Fact: In the U.S. approximately 65-75% of people that should have screening colonoscopy actually have it done. It is for the 25-35% people who don’t have it done that our efforts are directed. Several studies confirm that patients that have their colorectal cancer discovered at screening have at least  90% 5 year survival whereas patients who have their cancer discovered when symptoms develop have only a 30-40% 5 year survival. Bottom-line is that colorectal cancer screening can not only prevent cancer, it can improve survival rates when cancers are discovered early.

Current recommendations:

  • Colorectal screening should start at age 50 years age for everyone who is at normal risk. 

  • Depending on findings at the first screening, screening is continued every 5-10 years until age 75 years. When to stop screening is best decided by patients and their physician.

  • Colorectal cancer screening should start at age 40 years (and in some cases before) for patients at increased risk defined by family history or personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohns disease or ulcerative colitis).

The good news is that significant progress in the prevention and cure of colorectal cancer has been made in the last 20 years but we can do even better to lessen the impact of this terrible disease that affects so many patients. 

Talk to your doctor today, or schedule an appointment at Broadlawns Medical Center. All insurances are accepted.