HUDSON – As the third most common cancer in men and the second most common in women, colorectal cancer (CRC) is a major public health issue in the United States and throughout the world.
With more than 145,000 new cases diagnosed last year, and 50,000 deaths from CRC, it's important for health care professionals and the public to be aware of the the many strategies available to combat this preventable cancer.
Sponsored by Columbia Memorial Health
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month, and Columbia Memorial Health is working to make sure that everyone knows important facts about this condition, as well as ways to make sure everyone stays healthy.
Genetics and environment can both play a part in the likelihood of developing CRC, as can lifestyle concerns.
Jeffrey Monkash, MD, a gastroenterologist with CMH, said that most colon cancer begins as polyps, or growths in the colon that appear as the result of a variety of factors. These polyps may increase in size and number over time.
“Most of the time, colon polyps which are of various types (some neoplastic or precancerous and others maybe hyperplastic or inflammatory) cause no symptoms. However, sometimes there can be symptoms such as change in bowel movement frequency or size, or possibly bleeding or abdominal discomfort/indigestion,” he said.
The appearance of polyps and the possible transformation to cancer generally occurs over a number of years. Not all polyps are pre-cancerous, though, which presents a perfect opportunity for early detection and early removal.
Calling it a “golden opportunity,” Monkash said that if people agree to be screened for colorectal cancer, they can take an active part in preventing future health issues.
There are several types of CRC screenings, including stool tests, which check for the presence of blood or blood products, blood tests, and others such as cologuard which checks for the presence of blood and DNA that is shed from polyps or cancer.
Another option is colonoscopy, which has proven to be very effective in both preventing cancer and saving lives. Dr. Monkash said that with a colonoscopy, the entire colon is visualized using a special fiberoptic instrument. “If polyps are present, they can be painlessly removed at the same time while the patient is sedated.”
Currently only about 50 to 60 percent of those who should be screened undergo any screening. “That's clearly a number that needs to improve dramatically in order to reduce the number of people diagnosed and dying from CRC,” Monkash said.
“Over the last 10 years the incidence of CRC in the U.S. has been reduced in patients over 50 due almost entirely to the availability of colonoscopy and removal of pre-cancerous polyps. It's truly one of the great achievements in modern medicine,” he said, adding that patients with a family history of CRC should talk to their doctor about getting screened, even if they are younger than age 50.
“Please consider having your evaluation through your primary care provider and come out a winner, not a statistic. Let's pledge to eradicate this scourge from our lives,” Monkash said.