By Aynsley Anderson, MA, RN, Lawrence Memorial Hospital
Whenever they inquire about colorectal cancer screening, doctors are accustomed to hearing excuses. “Not right now,” the patient may say or “I’ll think about it.” These patients may be anxious about embarrassment or perceived pain or discomfort. They may think they are at low risk because they have had no symptoms.
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and it is important to know that colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths. According to the American Cancer Society, in 2014 about 136,830 people are predicted to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the United States, and about 50,310 people are predicted to die of the disease. In both men and women, colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer.
The good news is screening is particularly effective at detecting colorectal cancer at an early treatable stage – even preventing it in some cases. The Department of Health and Human Services says if everyone age 50 and older were screened regularly, six out of 10 deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented.
Colorectal cancer screening
A colonoscopy is widely recommended as one of the most effective screening tests. It reduces colorectal cancer deaths by 60 to 70 percent, according to studies. It also has the advantage of being able to remove any abnormalities that are found during the same procedure. Before cancer develops, a growth of tissue or tumor usually begins as a non-cancerous polyp on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. These are often detected and some can be removed during a routine screening colonoscopy.
During a colonoscopy, a flexible lighted tube, or scope, is inserted into the rectum and threaded through the entire length of the colon. Air is pumped into the colon to expand it and make viewing easier. Since the patient is given either general anesthesia or sedation, the whole procedure is less uncomfortable than the description suggests.
Many people refrain from undergoing a screening colonoscopy based on fear of the results, while others are nervous about the test itself. But these concerns are unfounded. The relatively minor discomfort that comes from the screening is overshadowed by the very real life saving potential.
Colorectal cancer treatment
If a cancerous growth is detected during a screening, there are many successful surgical, chemotherapy and radiation treatment options available. Many of the treatment options used today are new in the last 10 years and are proving to be very effective.
As screening numbers are increasing and treatment options for colorectal cancer are improving, survival rates are on the rise. The success of early detection and new treatment options is evident. The United States is home to more than one million survivors.
The American Cancer Society lists the following as risk factors for colorectal cancer. If you have one or more of these risk factors, talk to your health care provider.
- Age – Although colorectal cancer can strike at any age, after the age of 50 the chances for developing this type of cancer increases dramatically.
- Racial and ethnic background – The reason is not yet understood, but African Americans and Jewish people of Eastern European descent are at an increased risk.
Other risk factors include:
- A diet high in red meats and processed meat
- Personal history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer
- Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease
- Family history of colorectal cancer
- Physical inactivity
- Heavy alcohol use
- Type 2 diabetes
For more information on colorectal cancer, colonoscopies and other colorectal screening tests, visit lmh.org and search under the Wellness tab for the Health Library. Lawrence Memorial Hospital has two sites in Lawrence where colorectal screenings are done: the LMH Endoscopy Center at the main campus at 325 Maine St. and the LMH West Endoscopy Center at 4525 W. Sixth St. For more information check out this video in which Charles Brooks, MD, Tracy Hill, APRN, and Chad Tate, MD, discuss the importance of screening colonoscopy. Go to youtube.com/lmh.org.
Aynsley Anderson, MA, RN, is Community Education Coordinator for Lawrence Memorial Hospital. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.