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Kristen Nichols HeitmanThis 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.

The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 95,520 new cases of colon cancer in 2017. Colorectal cancer (also called colon cancer) is often highly treatable. But because many people are not getting tested the way they should, only about 4 out of 10 are diagnosed at this early stage when treatment is most likely to be successful.

Screening for colon cancer is important because it can detect cancer in people who are not exhibiting symptoms. 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. About ninety percent of people who are diagnosed with colon cancer early and are treated are still alive five years later. Don’t let these common myths stop you from getting the life-saving screening tests you need, when you need them.

Myth: Colorectal cancer is a man’s disease.

Truth: Colorectal cancer is almost as common among women as men. Each year in the US, about 71,000 men and 64,000 women are diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Colorectal 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.

Myth: Colorectal cancer cannot be prevented.

Truth: In many cases, colorectal cancer can be prevented. Colorectal cancer almost always starts with a small growth called a polyp. If the polyp is found early, it can be removed – stopping colorectal cancer before it starts.

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

Myth: African Americans are not at risk for colorectal cancer.

Truth: African Americans have the highest colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates of all racial groups in the United States. The reasons for this are not yet understood. Jews of Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi Jews) have one of the highest colorectal cancer risks of any ethnic group in the world.

Myth: Age doesn’t matter when it comes to getting colorectal cancer.

Truth: Most colorectal cancers are found in people age 50 and older. For this reason, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that adults age 50 to 75 be screened for colorectal cancer, and that adults age 76 to 85 ask their doctor if they should be screened.

  • People who are at a higher risk for colorectal cancer may need to start testing when they are younger. These risk factors include having—
  • Inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
  • A personal or family history of colorectal cancer, colorectal polyps, or rectal cancer.
  • A genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).Ask your provider when you should start getting tested and how often you should be tested.

Myth: Colonoscopy is the only screening option.

Truth: There are several screening options for CRC, so talk to your healthcare provider about which test is best for you:

Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT), also known as a stool test (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.

Stool DNA Test (once every three years)–looks for certain DNA changes from cancer or polyp cells.

Flexible Sigmoidoscopy (once every five years)—to check for polyps, doctor puts a long, thin, flexible, lighted tube into the rectum to provide a visual exam of the rectum and the lower third of the colon. If this test indicates abnormal results, a colonoscopy may be needed.

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.

Double-Contrast Barium Enema – barium sulfate is put in through the rectum and spreads throughout the colon allowing an x-ray to be taken of the colon.

CT Colonography–a fairly new test which gives a detailed, cross-sectional, 2D or 3D view of the colon and rectum with an x-ray machine linked to a computer.


American Cancer Society: Catching It Early
American Cancer Society Colorectal Cancer Overview

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.

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