By: Joan Stewart, RT(T), BA HCA Clinical Services Project Coordinator, TCCC
A common theme in cancer care is the earlier we can find it, the better our chance of curing it. Colorectal cancer is no exception. Unfortunately, early stage colon or rectal cancer has no symptoms. Therefore, we have to use some simple tests to find it. When you consider it is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, it appears those 50,000+ deaths annually were avoidable if we could have diagnosed earlier.
Who needs to be screened for colon or rectal cancer? Everyone who identifies with any of the following:
√ Age 50 years to age 75 years
√ Close relative with colorectal cancer
√ Personal history of colorectal adenomas, Crohn’s Disease or ulcerative colitis
√ Personal history of ovarian cancer
√ Familial adenomatous polyposis
All of these risk factors increase if you add excessive alcohol, smoking or obesity. Not only will these three elements increase your risk of getting colorectal cancer, if diagnosed they will decrease your chance of cure.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following for adults age of
50 to 75 without any of the other risk factors:
√ A high-sensitivity guaiac Fecal Occult Blood Test (gFOBT) or Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) every year or a FIT DNA every 3 years
√ Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years and a high-sensitivity gFOBT every 3 years
√ CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years
√ A colonoscopy every 10 years or a flexible sigmoidoscopy every 10 years with an annual FIT
If you are over 50 and you have additional risk factors, colonoscopy is the best path. The gFOBT can determine if you have a cancerous lesion with relative certainty, but its ability to identify a pre-cancerous lesion is much lower. The National Cancer Institute estimates a 60% reduction in death rates of colorectal cancer could be achieved by the use of colonoscopy when indicated.
The American Cancer Society lists the following as signs or symptoms of colorectal cancer:
√ A change in bowel habits lasting more than a few days
√ A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so
√ Rectal bleeding
√ Blood in the stool, which may cause the stool to look dark
√ Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
√ Weakness and fatigue
√ Unintended weight loss
While there may be reasons other than colorectal cancer for these symptoms, any one of them should be discussed with your family physician. For those of you approaching 50, be sure to discuss this with your family physician at your next visit. If you do not have a family physician, please reach out to Trios Health, Lourdes Health or Kadlec to establish care. For those of you with a family history of colon or rectal cancer, ask your family physician when you should begin your own screening program.
For more information about colorectal cancer, visit the National Cancer Institute’s website.
For colorectal cancer information in Spanish: