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Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month highlights the importance of screening

Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and the importance of screening
Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and the importance of screening(WECT News)
Published: Mar. 18, 2022 at 8:48 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month. According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and in women, and the second most common cause of cancer deaths when men and women are combined. It’s expected to cause more than 50,000 deaths this year.

With proper screening, however, about a third of colon cancer deaths can be prevented, according to Dr. Mehtap Canastar with Novant Health Gastroenterology.

“Colon cancer can be a preventable, easily treatable disease,” Dr. Canastar said. “Most colon cancers at early stages are asymptomatic, so for patients to wait for symptoms — at that point it may be too late or at least the treatments at that point can be harder for the patient.”

That is why early screening and detection is so important. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently lowered the recommended age to start screening to 45. The task force previously recommended beginning screening at age 50.

“I think perhaps patients don’t know how common it is and also how treatable it may be,” Canastar said. “A diagnosis of colon cancer — of course — that is one of the hardest news a patient can receive. At the same time, once they are provided with curative options, if it is detected early, that can turn the picture around.”

People at higher risk for colorectal cancer may need to start screening before age 45. It’s important to talk to your doctor to determine what is right for you.

According to the American Cancer Society, Colorectal cancer risk factors you can change include things like not being physically active, your diet, smoking and alcohol use. Colorectal cancer risk factors you cannot change are things like a personal history of colorectal polyps, personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, or a a family history of colorectal cancer.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has not only delayed colonoscopies for a number of people, but patient fears about contracting covid-19 has also led to further reductions in screenings.

“I personally have had many patients who have been waiting to get their screening colonoscopy,” Canastar said. “We have patients older than 50 — even according to the previous guidelines they are starting later than the recommended age — and they have been waiting to get screened, they’ve been waiting for covid rates to get better.”

While a colonoscopy exam is the gold standard when it comes to screening for colon cancer, Canastar said there are other options out there.

“There are other options that may be more acceptable for the patient, so they should not delay screening because they don’t want to do colonoscopy,” she said.

The Mayo Clinic outlined several different options, including a stool DNA test and a fecal occult blood test.

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