More than 140,000 people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer every year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 50,000 die from the disease annually. What’s worse is that colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. More than 90% of colorectal cancers occur in individuals over the age of 50.
As you may know, March was colorectal cancer awareness month—a time to educate oneself about the detection and prevention of colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer includes colon cancer (i.e., cancer that forms in the colon) as well as rectal cancer (i.e., cancer that forms in the rectum). The colon refers to the longest part of the large intestine while the rectum includes only the last several inches closest to the rectum. Most colorectal cancers begin as a polyp that grows inside the inner lining of the colon or rectum.
The good news is that these cancers are highly preventable when detected early through screening. Treatment is most effective when physicians are able to detect these cancers in an early stage. When detected early, abnormal growths or polyps are removed before they develop into cancer.
Many individuals might not know that screening for colorectal cancer begins at age 50. This screening includes the following:
- Colonoscopy (every 10 years)—During this procedure, a provider inserts a colonoscope into the anus and then advances it slowly into the rectum and through the colon usually as far as the cecum.
- Fecal occult blood test or stool test (annually)—During this test, tiny samples of stool are analyzed in a lab for evidence of blood that’s invisible to the naked eye.
- Sigmoidoscopy (every five years)—During this procedure, a provider inserts either a flexible or rigid endoscope into the rectum and through the sigmoid.
The CDC’s work in prevention
The CDC and American Cancer Society have worked in partnership to develop a colonoscopy reporting and data system called CO-RADS that defines elements for colonoscopy reports and presents a standard method for reporting them. CO-RADS is a standardized system approved by the American College of Gastroenterology, American Gastroenterological Association Institute, and the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. The tool helps physicians facilitate quality improvement programs and improve communications with patients by offering reports that use standards terms and include specific recommendations for follow-up.
In addition, the CDC launched “Screen for Life: National Colorectal Cancer Action Campaign,” which provides information to the public about the importance of having regular colorectal cancer screening tests. One of its public service announcements features actress Meryl Streep who talks about the importance of screening. Other celebrities, including Morgan Freeman, Diane Keaton, and Katie Couric have also provided public service announcements on behalf of the initiative.
The CDC’s overarching message is an important one: Everyday someone we know or love is diagnosed with cancer. Don’t let colorectal cancer go undetected. Get screened today.