Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
What You Should Know
With happening in March, it’s an excellent time to learn more about colorectal cancer. Make sure that you and your loved ones are aware of the risks and the latest recommendations for screenings. Although it has been four years since the American Cancer Society lowered the age recommended for screenings, many people are still unaware of this change.
• The recommended age for colorectal cancer screening has been lowered from 50 to 45.
• You should be screened for colorectal cancer if you are 45 to 75 years old.
• Talk with your doctor about when to begin screening if you think you are at increased risk for colorectal cancer.
What is colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer is a cancer of the colon or rectum. Like all other cancers, it occurs when abnormal cells grow out of control. In the case of colorectal cancer, it affects the cells of the lower part of the digestive system. Most colorectal cancers begin as a growth on the lining of the colon or rectum called a polyp. These polyps can typically be removed at the time of a screening colonoscopy.
It’s important to note that not all polyps are cancerous, but some types can turn into cancer. When this occurs, the cancer can grow into the wall of the colon or rectum. It can travel into blood or lymph vessels, allowing the cancer to spread to other parts of the body.
What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer often develops without any symptoms in the early stages of the disease. When symptoms do appear, they may include:
• A change in bowel habits
• Blood in the stool
• Rectal bleeding
• Narrow stools
• Abdominal pain or discomfort
• Persistent cramps and/or gas and bloating
• Unexplained weight loss
What are the risks for colorectal cancer?
The latest statistics from the Colorectal Cancer Alliance put the average lifetime risk for men at one in 23 and one in 25 for women. Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second-highest cause of cancer death in the United States.
Although age is a primary factor, with 66 being the median age for colorectal cancer diagnosis, young-onset colorectal cancer is rising, with rates for people under 50 increasing 2.2% each year.
Other risk factors for colorectal cancer include:
• Being overweight
• A diet high in red meat, processed meat and cooking meat at a high temperature
• Excessive alcohol use
• Inactive lifestyle
• Low levels of vitamin D
• A history of inflammatory bowel disease
• A personal or family history of polyps, colorectal cancer or an inherited syndrome related to colorectal cancer
What is colorectal cancer screening?
A colorectal cancer screening is a test performed on people who have no symptoms of the disease. Screening tests can find precancerous polyps or earlystage cancer when treatment will be most effective. Several types of screenings are available, including stool tests, flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy (the gold standard) and CT colonoscopy.
When should I begin being screened?
In 2018, the American Cancer Society lowered its recommended age to start colorectal cancer screening to 45. This is when people with an average risk for colorectal cancer should begin screening at regular intervals. People with a higher risk for colorectal cancer may need to be screened earlier.
You are at an increased risk for colorectal cancer if:
• You have an inflammatory bowel disease.
• You or a family member has had polyps or colorectal cancer.
• You have a genetic syndrome related to colorectal cancer, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).
Currently, most insurance plans and Medicare contribute to help pay for colorectal cancer screening for people who are 50 years old or older. Contact your insurer to determine what benefits are covered for colorectal screening, visit www.medicare.gov, or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).
If you are experiencing symptoms of colorectal cancer, you should make an appointment with your doctor immediately, regardless of your age or risk factors.
Dr. Nicolas T. LaBarre is a board-certified gastroenterologist at GastroIntestinal Specialists. Dr. LaBarre’s clinical interest lies in general gastroenterology and colorectal cancer prevention with special interest in pancreaticobiliary disorders and interventional endoscopy, including endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). To schedule an appointment, call (318) 631-9121 or visit gis.md.