Colonoscopy Screenings Save Lives
For more than 65 years, the American Cancer Society has helped find answers to critical questions about colon/rectal cancer (sometimes called colorectal cancer, and often referred to simply as colon cancer) – what causes it, how can it be prevented, detected, and treated successfully, and how colon cancer patients’ quality of life can be improved.
Over the past two decades, these efforts have contributed to substantial decreases in colon and rectal cancer deaths. However, despite this progress, colorectal cancer is still the third-deadliest cancer in the U.S. among both men and women, and as a result the Society continues to be committed to saving more lives from this lethal disease.
The American Cancer Society has identified colorectal cancer as a major priority because the application of existing knowledge has such great potential to prevent cancer, diminish suffering, and save lives.
• In 2014, an estimated 137,000 people were diagnosed with colon/rectal cancer in the U.S., and about 50,000 people died of the disease.
• In both men and women, colon/rectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death.
• While large declines in colon/rectal cancer incidence and death rates in the past decade have been attributed to increased colonoscopy use, but according to the National Health Interview Survey, only 59% of people aged 50 or older, for whom screening is recommended, report being consistent with colorectal cancer screening guidelines.
“The risk of colon cancer increases with age and dedicating a month to help increase awareness on how we can prevent this disease is a good way for us to communicate the important role screening has in detecting colorectal cancer early when it is most likely to be curable,” said Stacy Miller, RN, MSN, NP-C, OCN, Sheboygan Cancer & Blood Specialists, S.C. According to Miller, “Colonoscopy is currently considered the gold standard procedure for colon cancer screening.”
During a colonoscopy the entire colon and rectum is directly visualized using a narrow flexible scope. This technique allows for the early detection and removal of polyps and small cancers thereby avoiding the need for a major surgery to remove a portion of the colon.
According to the American Cancer screening guidelines, people should have a colonoscopy soon after turning 50 years of age, and continue the screening regularly until after the age of 75, unless their health care provider recommends otherwise.
Some people are at a higher risk than others for developing colorectal cancer and having any one of the following may increase a person’s risk:
– Inflammatory bowel disease
– A personal or family history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer
– History of breast and endometrial cancer
Miller recommends that, “If you think you may be at high risk for colorectal cancer, talk to your health care provider about when and how often to be tested.” The screening guidelines are proactive and help lead to the prevention of colon cancer. “In fact, colon cancer is one of the only cancers that can be detected and prevented through screening before it even starts,” added Miller.
Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer is often found after symptoms appear; most people with early colon or rectal cancer have no symptoms of the disease. Symptoms usually appear only when the disease is at a more advanced stage. This is why getting the recommended screening, before any symptoms develop, is so important. “Precancerous polyps and colorectal cancer don’t always cause symptoms, especially at first. You could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it. That is why colonoscopies are so important,” said Miller.
Symptoms for colorectal cancer may include:
Blood in or on the stool (bowel movement)
Stomach pain, aches, or cramps that do not go away
Losing weight and you don’t know why
While these symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer, people experiencing any of them, Miller recommends they talk to their health care provider to determine what is causing the symptoms.
Reduce Your Risk
The risk of getting colorectal cancer increases with age. More than 90% of cases occur in people who are 50 years old or older. For that reason, health care providers recommend that people get a colonoscopy or other type of colon cancer screening test when they turn 50. If a person has a family history or considered high risk, a colon cancer screening test may be recommended at an earlier age.
A colonoscopy is usually a 30-minute procedure performed on an outpatient basis in a hospital, or ambulatory surgery center. The major advantage of a colonoscopy compared to other colon cancer screening tests is the capability to remove polyps or abnormal growths. Many studies have proven that the early detection of colon polyps and colonoscopic polypectomy minimizes your chances of developing invasive colon cancer.
“Early detection of cancer improves treatment options, increases the chance for successful treatment and improves survival rates. In other words, a colonoscopy can be life-saving,” said Miller.
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