Regular Screening for Colorectal Cancer is Important
With regular screening, colorectal cancer can often be prevented or found at an early stage when it is easiest to treat. This is an important health reminder as March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women in the United States.
Over the last several decades, the death rate from colorectal cancer has been decreasing because of cancers being found earlier when it is easiest to treat and from better colorectal cancer treatments.
Colorectal cancer often begins as a growth called a polyp, which may form on the inner wall of the colon or rectum. Some polyps become cancerous over time. Finding and removing polyps through colonoscopy screening does not only help finding the cancer early, it can prevent it from happening all together.
“Colon cancer does not typically cause any signs until it has grown to a substantial size,” said Colon and Rectal Surgeon Kristin Busch, M.D., of MyMichigan Medical Group. “Some early signs of colorectal cancer can include bleeding with bowel movements, persistent abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss or fatigue or changes in bowel habits, such as new diarrhea or new constipation. While these symptoms can also be caused by conditions other than cancer, it’s important to talk to your primary care provider about these symptoms.”
The risk for being diagnosed with colorectal cancer increases with age. New guidelines recommend colorectal cancer screening at age 45 instead of age 50. These recommendations are for people of average risk, with no family history of colorectal cancer and no concerning symptoms.
Screening tests include stool tests to look for blood or DNA in the stool. There are many at-home stool test kits available that can now be done in the comfort of one’s own home. “If the test comes back positive, I encourage you to schedule a colonoscopy to look for polyps,” Dr. Busch added.
Other ways to lower the risk of colorectal cancer include maintaining a healthy weight, participating in regular physical activity, avoiding or stopping smoking, and eating a diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in red and processed meats.
MyMichigan Health has a free 5-minute Colorectal Health Assessment to help determine one’s risk for developing colorectal cancer. If the assessment determines a high risk for developing colorectal cancer, individuals will be mailed a free home testing kit. Results of the test will be mailed back to the individual. Those interested in an assessment or to learn more about colorectal cancer may visit www.mymichigan.org/colon.
Those eligible for a colorectal screening, and do not have one scheduled, are encouraged to take the opportunity during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month to talk to their primary care provider about scheduling the procedure. Those in need of a primary care provider may call MyMichigan Health Line at (800) 999-3199.