This year an estimated 147,950 adults in the United States will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is the second deadliest cancer in the United States, claiming an estimated 53,200 deaths each year. However, this does not need to be the case, because when found early, colorectal cancer can often be treated successfully. Thanks to the progress in screening technology, colorectal cancers have been found at earlier stages saving countless lives over the past few decades. Unfortunately, many people are still unaware of or lack access to colorectal cancer screenings, which is why at UHRU we are working to improve colorectal cancer screening rates among medically underserved communities.
There are a number of ways to prevent colorectal cancer. The best way is to get screened regularly beginning at age 45 or earlier if you are at increased risk for colorectal cancer. You should also eat a diet that includes lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fibers. These have all been linked to a decreased risk of colorectal cancer, while processed and red meats have been linked to an increased risk. Another protective measure to take to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer is to get regular exercise and abstain from drinking and smoking excessively.
There are a wide variety of different screening options available. The main categories of tests are direct visualization tests that look inside the colon directly and stool-based tests that are noninvasive and identify signs of colorectal cancer through stool samples. In order to decide which screening type is best for you consider the amount of preparation needed, follow-up testing, invasiveness, how often repeat testing is needed, and where the test is performed. Direct visualization tests, which include the colonoscopy, require 1-3 days of advanced preparation, are invasive, require repeat screening every 10 years, and are performed at an endoscopy center or other health care facility. Stool-based tests, which include the fecal immunochemical test (FIT), do not require preparation beforehand, are non-invasive, and can be performed at home, but if results come back abnormal there is a need for follow-up testing, and repeat screening is needed every year.
After someone receives a colorectal cancer diagnosis, the next step is to develop a treatment plan. A multidisciplinary team of doctors including a surgeon, oncologist, and a gastroenterologist will work together to help treat the cancer. Chemotherapy is often given before surgery to reduce the size of the tumor and keep it from spreading to other parts of the body. It is important to know that these treatments are most effective the earlier they are administered. This is why we stress the importance of screening and emphasize how much early detection not only saves lives, but also saves money, unneeded stress, and family hardships that typically accompany a cancer diagnosis.
At UHRU, we will continue to provide support to underserved communities to help increase access to colorectal cancer screening. We would also like to help bring awareness to this disease and remind all community members that it is preventable. Please speak with your physician about your screening options including when to start screening and how often to be screened. Please help us eliminate this cancer in our lifetime.