March may be National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month but as the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women in the United States, the disease doesn’t mind the calendar.
Over 52,500 people will die from colorectal cancer in 2022, according to American Cancer Society projections. By year’s end, an estimated 106,180 cases of colon cancer and 44,850 cases of rectal cancer will have been newly diagnosed.
Colorectal cancer screening is critical because roughly half of patients are asymptomatic, noted Dr. Steven Wexner, director of Cleveland Clinic Florida’s Digestive Disease and Surgery Institute.
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“In the vast majority of these cancers, they start life as polyps, tiny little growths from the (colon or rectum) wall,” he said in a 2019 video statement provided to TCPalm. “If those polyps are removed, those patients will not go on to develop cancer at those sites.”
Exceptions such as hereditary factors may impact diagnosis, but colorectal cancer is “almost totally preventable,” Wexner said.
When should I get screened for colorectal cancer?
As soon as you turn 45, it’s time to make colorectal cancer screenings part of your health care regimen, according to the US Preventive Services Task Force.
These screenings are among the task force’s guidelines:
- Stool screening (gFOBT or FIT test) every year
- Stool DNA screening (sDNA-FIT test) every one to three years
- CT colonography every five years
- Colonoscopy every 10 years.
Consult your doctor about which test(s) and screening intervals are best for you.
Once you turn 76, the task force recommends only selective screening. No screening is recommended for people 86 and older.
If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, your doctor may advise testing before you hit 45. People with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or certain genetic syndromes may also benefit from early screenings, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Am I at risk of colorectal cancer?
Aside from the factors listed above, your risk of colorectal cancer increases with each passing year. Being Black and/or male further raises your chances.
About one in 23 men and one in 25 women are at risk of developing the disease, according to the ACS. Black Americans face the highest incidence and death rates among races. Worldwide, Ashkenazi Jews bear one of the highest risks of colorectal cancer of any ethnicity.
You have the power to lower these lifestyle risks, per the CDC:
- maintain a healthy weight
- Increase your physical activity
- Limit alcohol and tobacco use
- Avoid a low-fiber, high-fat diet
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
Where can I find support?
If you don’t have health insurance or need financial assistance with colorectal cancer screenings, contact:
Some of these resources also offer emotional support, whether you’re preparing for your first colonoscopy, are a colorectal cancer survivor or have lost a loved one to the disease.
Lindsey Leake is TCPalm’s health, welfare and social justice reporter. She has a master’s in journalism and digital storytelling from American University, a bachelor’s from Princeton and is a science writing graduate student at Johns Hopkins. Follow her on Twitter @NewsyLindsey, Facebook @LindseyMLeake and Instagram @newsylindsey. Call her at 772-529-5378 or email her at email@example.com.