Living Well: Colorectal cancer
For most people colorectal cancer is hardly table talk, but perhaps there is good reason why it should be. In fact, many people are long past the standard of care for their first colonoscopy, or can’t accurately remember when they underwent their last colonoscopy. But many others have reaped the benefits of early detection from staying on a regular screening schedule. Implementing preventative measures, recognizing the earliest signs of concern, and being educated and aware of the treatment options for colorectal polyps and cancer are the keys to success.
Colonoscopy; Why It Matters – Prevention
Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States behind prostate, breast, and lung cancers. Colorectal cancer claims nearly 137,000 lives per year in the United States alone, according to the American Cancer Society. Is it preventable? To an extent, yes. But it means following a proper screening regimen. Current screening guidelines state everyone should have a preliminary colonoscopy starting at age 50. If no concerning results are found, the standard of care is to have the procedure repeated every 10 years thereafter. If there are positive findings (polyps or cancer), the next colonoscopy should be sooner than 10 years, depending on the findings (number and types of polyps). If a first-degree relative (a father, mother, brother, or sister) has been diagnosed with colon cancer, the first colonoscopy should start 10 years earlier than their family member’s age at diagnosis.
You don’t know unless you look – Early Detection
Becoming familiar with the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer makes you more likely to detect health changes early. Persistent bleeding (once hemorrhoids have been ruled out), unintentional weight loss, acute or chronic blood loss anemia (recognized as a low hemoglobin on lab work), and changes in bowel habits and stool appearance can be indicators that one should undergo a colonoscopy. Having prior polyps removed during a previous colonoscopy or having a family history of colorectal cancer are also risk factors going forward. Reporting these signs to your physician can start the life-saving process of early detection.
Abnormal Findings: Polyps and their transition to Colorectal Cancer
A look within the colon can reveal polyps. Several types of polyps can be seen, both visually and microscopically. Hyperplastic tissue, which is the benign extra growth of cells lining the colon, is the most common finding. Tubular adenomas are stalk-like polyps with glandular tissue which can eventually grow into a cancer (if left long enough) about 10-20% of the time. Sessile adenomas are flat, carpet-like polyps that if left long enough can grow into a cancer 70-80% of the time. Sessile serrated polyps, are a newer term that should be checked within three years. Polyps that show dysplastic cells (abnormal cells that are transitioning from benign to cancer cells) or isolated cancer cells within their tips should have more aggressive surveillance.
An Ounce of Prevention – What else can I do? What are my risk factors?
Reducing the risk factors for colorectal cancer also involves healthy living. Eat a high-fiber, low-fat diet. Avoid nitrate-laden foods, such as smoked and charred meats, and excessive amounts of alcohol. Limit obesity and increase your daily exercise. Avoid tobacco products in all forms. Also, be familiar with your family history and don’t be afraid to ask your relatives. Know who has encountered abnormal colon findings, and how old they were when this was discovered.
Colorectal Cancer in Summary
Knowing your risk factors and your family history are important keys. Prevention, early detection, and early intervention are vital to staying clear of colorectal cancer. Contact your doctor or medical health professional to determine the appropriate plan for your colorectal health.