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Colorectal cancer, or colon cancer is the second-leading killer among cancers in both women and men in the U.S. It can start in the rectum or colon. Regular screenings can find dangerous growths, which can be removed safely from the colon or rectum, preventing incurable cancer. Screenings for colorectal cancer should begin at the age of 50 and continue regularly.
More screenings may be necessary if polyps are discovered in the rectum or colon also if growths have been found in the individual being screened. Screenings could become more frequent if an individual has Chron’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or ulcerative colitis. Another reason screenings would need to happen more often would be if there are hereditary syndromes present, such as Lynch Syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis.
A family doctor can tell a patient when to start screenings and how frequently they will be necessary. The risk of colon/rectal cancer increases as people get older. Over 90 percent of colorectal cancer cases happen in those who are over the age of 50. However, individuals can lower the risk of colorectal cancer by avoiding foods that are high in fat and eating high fiber foods, as well as lots of fruits and vegetables. Also, one should exercise regularly to maintain a healthy weight, refrain from smoking and drink alcohol in moderation.
Symptoms may not appear at first. A person can have polyps or colon/rectal cancer without being aware of it. Symptoms that may occur if an individual has colon or rectal polyps or cancer are bloody stools, sustained cramps, stomach pain, or aches and weight loss with no apparent reason.
There are 30 percent more New Yorkers getting colorectal cancer screenings then there were ten years ago. Many of the disparities among people who develop colorectal cancer have been eradicated from the city, including ethnicity, language, or demographics. New Yorkers over 50 believe that getting regular screenings is a good idea for maintaining health. In addition, screenings save lives and money within the healthcare system. However, there are two more groups of people that need to be targeted by the city, as evidenced by the gap between the insured and uninsured and those who have a primary care physician and those who do not. The Cancer Prevention Program at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is focusing on this issue.
In the past ten years, slightly more of the uninsured are getting screened, however, 30 percent go without screening. Of those getting screened, 83 percent of the people have a primary care physician. Under the Affordable Care Act, colonoscopies are completely covered.
It is possible that people are not getting screened for more personal reasons. People need encouragement to get a colonoscopy, as it is not a simple procedure. The city is expanding its program so that patients are paired with a healthcare worker to guide them through the process and help them feel more comfortable with the process. The program covers 20 hospitals, including city-run clinics. The Health Department is also getting the program into public and private primary care groups.
An estimated 50,000 people die each year from a very preventable cancer. Those who have surgery to remove cancerous growths should ask that the tumor be tested for Lynch syndrome. Some hospitals, such as the University of Utah Hospital, will screen for Lynch syndrome automatically.
Lynch syndrome is congenital and increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 80 percent. Lynch syndrome also increases the risk of other cancers, such as stomach, uterus, liver, small intestine, pancreas, hepatobiliary tract, brain, upper urinary tract, and skin cancers. Immediate family members of anyone with Lynch syndrome are advised to have genetic testing performed. If Lynch syndrome is a possibility, follow-ups could include meeting with a genetic counselor to understand the risks associated with Lynch syndrome, and a blood sample can identify any mutations in one of the symptom’s four genes. It is advised that anyone over the age of 50 or who has any of the symptoms above undergo screening.
By Jeanette Smith
Featured image by UMHealthSystem – Flickr License