This is a guest post by Kristen Nichols Heitman, MPH, an epidemiologist in the Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch in the Division of Vector-Borne Diseases in the National Center for Emerging Zoonotic and Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She received a Master of Public Health (MPH) with a concentration in epidemiology from Georgia State University.
In February 2000, former President Clinton officially declared March as nationally recognized Colon Cancer Awareness Month to shed light on this “silent killer.” More than sixteen years later, this cause has grown to be a rallying point to educate the public about this disease and the steps they can take to help prevent it.
Below, Nichols-Heitman answers commonly asked questions about colon cancer and shares why the most effective weapon in defeating it is early detection and treatment.
1) Why is colorectal cancer one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the U.S.?
Colorectal cancer (also called colon cancer) is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women combined and the third most common form of cancer in the United States. Screening for colon cancer is important because it can detect cancer in people who are not exhibiting symptoms.
Ninety percent of people who are diagnosed with colon cancer early and are treated are still alive five years later. Screening rates have increased in recent years, but only 65 percent of U.S. adults were up-to-date with colorectal cancer screening in 2012.
2) How can women and men reduce their risk for this form of cancer?
Changes you can make to decrease your risk of colon cancer:
- Avoid diets which are high in red meats (beef, lamb or liver) and processed meats (like hot dogs, bologna and lunch meat)
- Include calcium, folate and fiber in your diet
- Avoid cooking meats at very high heat (frying, broiling or grilling), which can create chemicals known to increase risk of cancer
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Do not smoke
- Avoid use of alcohol
3) Is this form of cancer hereditary?
Yes. Men and women with a first-degree relative (parent, sibling or offspring) who has colon cancer are two to three times more likely to develop the disease.
4) At what age should you screen for CRC?
Men and women aged 50 or older should be screened regularly for colon cancer. Ninety percent of new cases and 95 percent of deaths caused by colon cancer occur in men and women over 50.
5) Where can you get screened?
Talk to your doctor about which screening test is right for you. There are convenient at-home options as well as in-office tests. Your doctor will be able to recommend what’s right for you.
6) What type of tests are available? What do they involve?
The U.S. preventive Services Task Force recommends colorectal cancer screening for men and women aged 50–75 using the following tests:
- Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) (once a year)—uses chemicals or antibodies to detect blood in the stool. BioIQ offers this non-invasive test, which can be conducted at home. A positive result will need to be followed up with a colonoscopy.
- Flexible Sigmoidoscopy (once every five years)—doctor puts a long, thin, flexible, lighted tube into the rectum and check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the lower third of the colon.
- Colonoscopy (once every ten years) – doctor uses a long, thin, flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon. During the test, the doctor can find and remove most polyps and some cancers.
- American Cancer Society Colorectal Cancer Overview
- CDC’s “Colorectal Cancer Screening Saves Lives” brochure
The conclusions, findings, and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the authors’ affiliated institutions.