Colon cancer is projected to cause about 1,700 deaths every day in the U.S. this year, making it the second-leading cause of cancer deaths. And yet, even with more than 4,500 new cases identified every day, colorectal cancer remains undiscovered until it is too late in far too many cases.
That’s why we observe National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month each March, to ring the bell for awareness. Early detection is the single biggest contributor to survival, and still the number of people who know their status increased by only 1.1% from 2014 to 2016 – the most recent years for which statistics are complete. Clearly, there’s more work to do and more awareness to raise if we are going to make testing and awareness more widespread. It’s time to make this a way of life.
Where It Is – What It Is
Colorectal cancer occurs in the large intestine, which is about five feet of tube-like tissue that works to harvest water and salts from the food we eat after other nutrients have been extracted in the small intestine. Together, the intestines are the last two stages in the gastro-intestinal system that converts what we eat into nourishment.
Although changes in bowel habits can be signs of colorectal cancer, many cases occur and advance without symptoms. In fact, most people with early colorectal cancer don’t have symptoms at all. That’s why regular screenings after the age of 50 are recommended.
Because heredity is a factor in colon cancer, family medical history is step-one for identifying risks. Your physician may begin with an external exam, feeling from outside the abdomen for lumps or swollen organs. Blood tests can reveal signs of colorectal cancer from a number of markers, including complete blood count liver enzymes and tumor markers, such as CEA and CA 19-9.
Why a Colonoscopy is Important
A colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy are important ways of finding polyps, which are small growths on the inside wall of the large intestine. Polyps can take several benign and precancerous forms, but cancer cells, if present in a polyp, can attach to the intestine wall, and from there enter the bloodstream to grow elsewhere in the body. So, finding polyps early is important, which is why physicians recommend regular colonoscopy exams after the age of 50, with the exact frequency depending on a person’s particular risk factors.
The colonoscopy is usually a half-hour, outpatient exam using a form of anesthetic that relaxes or sedates the patient; many folks don’t even remember the process. Imaging tests such as CT scans and MRIs are other ways physicians use for detecting colorectal cancer.
Who Can Help?
The same lifestyle choices, habits, and patterns that reduce our risk of heart disease and diabetes can also give us better odds of living without colorectal cancer, so reducing your risk of colorectal cancer can also help avoid other leading threats to our health and wellbeing.
A dialogue with your family doctor is the beginning of detection and prevention. Why not schedule an appointment with us at Global Family Medicine to talk about a process of awareness that can help you reduce your risk from colon cancer and other threats? Call us at 843-815-6468.