According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), colorectal cancer (CRC) is the #2 cancer killer in the U.S. as well as in North Carolina. Fortunately, colorectal cancer is preventable when found early during routine screenings. The CDC has found the rates of new cases and deaths are decreasing, and that 66,000 colorectal cancer cases were prevented between 2003-2007 with the help of screenings.
Since the 1970s, there has been a 47% decline in colorectal cancer death rates. According to NC Health and Human Services 40% of late-stage colorectal cancer could have been prevented if all men and women 50 years or older were routinely screened. Risk of cancer dramatically increases after age 50, with about 90% of all CRCs diagnosed after this age. Incidence and mortality rates are even higher in African Americans. If you are over the age of 50 – speak to your doctor regarding a getting screened. A short discussion may save your life.
Screening is recommended for adults over the age of 50 with no family history of colon cancer. If you do have a family history, screenings may start at the age of 40 or earlier depending on when your family member was diagnosed. There are a few different screening methods available, including:
- Colonoscopy – The Gold Standard of screening tools that can detect and remove growths during the procedure
- Stool tests – Recommended every 1-3 years depending on the type of test. If you test positive, then you will need a colonoscopy. Can be positive for multiple reasons.
- CT colonography – Often hard to get insurance approval for this test and has risks of radiation. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors and which screening method is best for you. Other less common risk factors include inflammatory bowel disease, like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, and a genetic predisposition such as familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary nonpolyposis coli.
People with early-stage colorectal cancer rarely experience symptoms, but possible signs may involve:
- Blood in the stool (rectal bleeding)
- If you are found to be anemic by a blood test
- Abdominal pain
- Change in bowel habits -diarrhea, constipation or change in the shape of the stool.
If you experience these symptoms, it’s important to discuss them with your physician. Don’t ignore any symptoms and don’t be afraid to speak with your doctor!
There are some lifestyle factors that may help reduce your risk of developing colorectal cancer:
- Addressing obesity
- Consuming red meat in moderation (1-2 times weekly)
- Stop smoking
- Avoiding excess consumption of alcohol
- Exercising regularly
Dr. Kiran Anna is a gastroenterologist at Alamance Gastroenterology and a member of the Cone Health Medical Group. Dr. Anna completed medical school at MS Ramaiah Medical College in Bangalore, India and his residency at Walsall Manor Hospital West Midlands Deanery and MetroHealth Medical Center at Case Western Reserve University. He completed his fellowship in gastroenterology at MetroHealth Medical Center at Case Western Reserve University as well. Dr. Anna is Board-certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology.