Colorectal Cancer Screening Worth the Embarrassment

Colorectal CancerMarch is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and to many, that means awkward conversations and embarrassing procedures. However, according to the American Cancer Society’s chief cancer control officer, Dr. Richard Wender, regular screenings are still the best way to reduce and prevent the risk of colorectal cancer. Thanks to modern technology and increased screening options, the once mortifying screening process has become well worth the slight discomfort and uncomfortable glances.

Whether you call it colon, rectal or colorectal cancer, it is still the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Early screenings look for the presence of polyps or cyst sacks that grow in the gland cells that line the inside of the colon walls. Not all polyps become cancerous, there is one specific type of polyp called adenomas that becomes cancerous. Cancer polyps known as adenocarcinomas account for 95 percent of this disease.  The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates one in 20 adults in their lifetimes will develop colorectal cancer. The ACS also states there are over 20 million eligible adults in the Unites States that have not been screened. The colorectal disease sees roughly 142,000 new diagnoses per year. An estimated 50,310 people will die in 2014 from colorectal cancer.

Often seen as an older gentlemen’s disease of embarrassment, colorectal cancer can be prevented and even cured in younger people. Although screening recommendations begin at an average age of 50, people with high risk factors should know them and get screened at an earlier age. Two types of risk factor may potentially affect the likelihood of getting the disease. There are risk factors that can not be changed, and risk factors that can be modified. Risk factors that can not be changed include, people with a history of polyps or a family history of colorectal cancer, as well as people with a history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Studies also suggest black men have the highest occurrence and mortality rate for the disease; a fact that has yet to be explained. Having any of these risk factors would make earlier screenings worth it. However there are certainly major risk factors that can be modified, such as smoking.  Smokers are more likely to develop colorectal cancer than non-smokers. Eating red meat as well as processed meat also increases the risk of the disease. Adversely, physical activity can reduce the risk rate of the disease by 50 percent.

Knowing the risk factors is the first step in the right direction toward effective screenings and early intervention. The goal is to get screened before the embarrassing symptoms hit. Symptoms indicate something is already going on in the body as opposed to the preventative approach of removing polyps before they become cancerous. Major symptoms associated with colorectal cancer include bloody or black stool, abnormal bowel patterns such as constipation or diarrhea.  Symptoms that persist for more than a few days such as cramping, nausea, abdominal pain and weakness may also be signs of a serious problem.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. The campaign aims to raise awareness and hopes to alleviate some of the stigmas and embarrassment associated with the disease. The ACS recommends using the fecal immunochemical test (FIT), a home based stool test, as well as having a colonoscopy, a slightly more invasive procedure. The FIT screening should be done annually and a colonoscopy should be performed every 10 years. A home test can be well worth the effort as it may indicate a problem before a patient is due for their regular colonoscopy.  For the most effective results and treatment options for colorectal cancer,  a positive FIT should always be followed up with a colonoscopy.

By Shannon Malone


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