Healthy Living :October 22, 2019

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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - I would like to talk about the importance of screening for colorectal cancer. The main reason I would like to talk about this is due to the frequency I have seen patients with advanced and large colon cancers since moving to Maine. I had spent most of my life and surgical training in Pennsylvania and have recently moved to and am working in Maine at Northern Light Health. In the past three months I've seen as many patients with obstructing colon masses as I would normally see in a year in Pennsylvania. So, in my experience there seems to be a fairly high prevalence of people with advanced colon cancers that may have been able to be prevented by undergoing regular colorectal screenings.
A little bit about colon cancer:
In the United States cancer is the second leading cause of death. Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women. The American Cancer Society's estimates for the number of colorectal cancer cases in the United States for 2019 are:
• 101,420 new cases of colon cancer
• 44,180 new cases of rectal cancer
• Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is: about 1 in 22 (4.49%) for men and 1 in 24 (4.15%) for women.
• In the United States, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and in women. It's expected to cause about 51,020 deaths during 2019.
The good news is the death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping in both men and women for several decades. There are several likely reasons for this. One is that colorectal polyps are now being found more often by screening and removed before they can develop into cancers or are being found earlier when the disease is easier to treat. In addition, treatment for colorectal cancer has improved over the last few decades. As a result, there are now more than one million survivors of colorectal cancer in the United States. Although the overall death rate has continued to drop, deaths from colorectal cancer among people younger than age 55 have increased 1% per year from 2007 and 2016.
So, there is a lot of value in undergoing screening for colorectal cancers because you can often prevent a small polyp from developing into a large cancer or if there is a cancer it may be early enough to treat as to increase your chance of survival.
It's important to establish care with a family doctor who can help navigate you through a schedule of regular colorectal screenings and there are a few options which include colonoscopy, fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy, and double contrast barium enema. There are some newer technologies too such as CT colography/virtual colonoscopy and fecal DNA testing. All of these modalities have advantages and disadvantages which you can discuss with your physician.
In general, most people should be considered for colorectal cancer screening at age 45. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer you may need to start screening earlier.
I would encourage everyone to establish care with a physician and undergo colorectal cancer screenings when deemed appropriate. It could save your life.