Last year, national screening guidelines for colorectal cancer were updated to include a broader range of adults
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and with it has arrived a slew of email, social media, and (maybe even) personal reminders to get screened. And while most adults only need a screening every ten years to stay safe, March remains an opportunity to stay informed on the 2nd deadliest cancer in the US.
See how much you really know about this preventable, treatable disease—and share this article with the adults in your life who are due for a screening.
Q. The American Cancer society recommends that adults at average risk for colon cancer begin screening at:
In the most recent guideline update, the ACS lowered the age to start screening because studies show rates of colorectal cancer among younger people are on the rise. ACS experts have determined that starting screening earlier could help save more lives. However, those at higher risk for colorectal cancer—due to a family or personal history of colon or bowel issues—should begin even earlier. For adults at average risk, the answer is B. 45.
Q. When caught early, the survival rate for localized colon cancer is:
While colon cancer is the 2nd deadliest cancer in the US for men and women combined, the good news is that when caught early—thanks to a timely screening—the most common treatment is surgery. Chemotherapy is often not required. The five-year survival rate for early treatment is C. 90%.
For many people, the uncertainty of a colonoscopy can be enough to avoid a timely screening. This was the case for a 60-year-old female patient of Everside Health Nurse Practitioner Michelle Cantwell, who is part of Everside’s virtual care team.
“During [her yearly check-in], I had talked to her and realized she had never had a colonoscopy. It was because she was really afraid of having the procedure done,” explains Michelle. While colonoscopy screenings are painless and do not take long, Michelle offered an alternative.
“I discussed Cologuard with her, which is not as invasive. She was very agreeable!”
Cologuard is an at-home stool sample kit for those at average risk of colon cancer. Michelle’s patient received the no-cost kit at home and returned it by mail for screening. Unfortunately, it tested positive, which meant there was a possibility of colon cancer.
“Because the test came back positive, she needed a diagnostic colonoscopy,” she explains. “We determined what
gastroenterologist near her would be convenient and helped her set up an appointment.”
“We continued reaching out to her [ahead of the colonoscopy] and reassured her that it was something she needed,” she adds.
The specialist who performed the procedure sent back the results immediately to Michelle, who received good news. Her patient did not have cancer but angiodysplasia, which can be a problematic condition that causes gastrointestinal bleeding and anemia (lack of sufficient blood in the body). It was successfully treated during her colonoscopy.
“Because the guidelines have recently changed to 45,” notes Michelle, “I’ll often have discussions about screening options, and that there is an alternative test for those would otherwise avoid getting screened at all.”
“Cancer screenings done at the recommended ages are so important. It’s when we catch them early and they are still treatable,” she says. The problem with cancers—including colon cancer—is that they can spread over time to different organs and areas of the body. This makes effective treatment much more difficult.
The importance of timely screenings was confirmed in another patient of Dr. Cantwell’s, a 52-year-old male who had been ordered a colonoscopy by his primary care provider but had not followed through. “I counseled him on the importance of the test and ordered another screening for him, which he completed.”
This time, the result was a positive diagnosis. Fortunately, because the cancer was caught early, he underwent surgery shortly thereafter and is now doing well. “The early detection was a big part of helping him have a good outcome,” she concludes.
Q. True or false: Colorectal cancer disproportionately affects members of minority communities.
The reasons for differences between communities is numerous, but they are largely summed up by differences in risk factors and in healthcare access. This includes greater obstacles to cancer prevention, detection, and treatment, brought about by systemic racial disparities that go beyond obvious connections to cancer. African Americans are about 20% more likely to get colon cancer and about 40% more likely to die from it; A. True.
Q. Besides timely screenings, you can’t control the likelihood of getting colon cancer.
Cancers of many kinds often feel like they come out of nowhere. It’s possible for someone who is otherwise healthy and in good shape to be diagnosed with cancer. However, there are numerous healthy habits and lifestyle changes that are proven to reduce your risk of colon cancer, especially if you’re at increased risk due to personal or family history. This includes eating lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; getting regular exercise; managing your weight; and avoiding both tobacco and alcohol. Timely screenings are important, but so are lifelong healthy habits; B. False.
If you’re due for a screening, talk with your healthcare provider today about which options are available. Remember that cancers of all kinds are best caught early, when treatment is less invasive and survival rates are still very high. By delaying a timely screening, you’re not avoiding the disappointment of bad news but increasing its likelihood.
Are you an employer or union member? Everside’s virtual and onsite care teams partner alongside your workforce for support, guidance, and timely primary care that keeps them healthy and avoids costly downstream health events. Reach out today if you’d like to learn more about preventive screening tools like Cologuard or a new benefits partnership with Everside.