Colorectal Cancer: The importance of preventative screenings
Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. In 2019 alone, the American Cancer Society estimates colorectal cancer to cause about 51,020 deaths. National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is a good time to reflect on changes that have occurred in the past year, and the importance of colorectal cancer screenings.
In 2018, multiple new drugs were approved to treat metastatic (incurable) colon cancer. There have also been many advances in treating cancer based on the make up of a person’s own tumor. There are many more changes when treating metastatic colon cancer, but in my opinion, the biggest advancement is the statewide call to improve colon cancer screening in Louisiana.
Having a regular colorectal cancer screening performed by your doctor is important to prevent this cancer, or catch it early when it can be treated. The purpose of a colon cancer screening is to detect precancerous lesions, or cancerous lesions before they progress to cancer or move to other areas of the body, making it unable to be cured.
Multiple methods of screening are available, the most common being the fecal occult blood test (FOBT). Most recently, fecal immunochemical testing (FIT) has been made more widely accessible. These are stool cards that can be done at home and mailed in to be tested in a lab. Just as dieting, exercising and healthy living prevents disease, colon cancer screening also prevents disease. The good news: Colon cancer screening doesn’t require even a small percentage of the effort or time as dieting and exercising.
There are numerous misconceptions about screening for colon cancer, which leads people to avoid being screened. Before deciding whether to be screened, it is very important to talk to your doctor. The same screening method is not appropriate for everyone. Ensure all of your questions are addressed when discussing screening options, which will help misconceptions and fears to be alleviated.
The American Cancer Society recommends in their colon cancer screening guidelines that for someone who is considered to be at average risk, they should begin getting regular screenings beginning at age 45, and should continue getting regular screenings through age 75. This is for both men and women. If you have a history of colorectal cancer in your family, or a personal history of colorectal cancer or inflammatory bowel disease, it is recommended to start colorectal cancer screenings before age 45. I hope that at this time next year, we will be reflecting on the improvement in the screening rates in Louisiana and seeing a lower number of people who are diagnosed with late stage cancer.
Mindie Kavanaugh, MD, is an assistant professor of medicine at LSU Health Shreveport and a hematologist/oncologist at Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport Feist-Weiller Cancer Center.