March is colorectal cancer awareness month, and a good time to learn about colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon and rectum) and how it can be prevented or best treated. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States for both men and women combined. In our country approximately 140,000 cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed this year. 56,000 will die from the disease. “But colorectal cancers can be prevented through regular screenings, a healthy diet and regular exercise," explained colorectal surgeon Dr. Baker at CHI St. Francis.
How Can I Lower my Risk of Colorectal Cancer?
To lower your risk of colorectal cancer, the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons recommends that you:
- Get regular colorectal screenings after age 45. 80-90% of colorectal cancer patients restore to normal health when the cancer is detected in the earliest stages.
- Eat a low fat as well as high fiber diet.
- If you use alcohol, drink only in moderation. Use tobacco, quit. If you use tobacco, don’t start. The combination of alcohol and tobacco link to colorectal cancer and other gastrointestinal cancers.
- Exercise for at least 20 minutes 3-4 days each week. Moderate exercise such as walking, gardening or climbing stairs may help.
Can Colorectal Cancer be Cured?
There are few symptoms associated with this cancer, making regular screening essential. Screening is beneficial for 2 main reasons:
- Colorectal cancer is preventable if polyps, that lead to the cancer, are detected and removed
- It is curable if cancer is detected in the early stages
“If detected, colorectal cancer requires surgery in nearly all cases for a complete cure, sometimes in conjunction with radiation and chemotherapy,” said Dr. Baker. “Between 80-90% of patients are restored to normal health if the cancer detected and treated in his earliest stages. However the cure rate drops to 50% or less when diagnosed in the later stages.”
In addition, studies have shown the patients treated by colorectal surgeons–experts in the surgical and nonsurgical treatment of colon and rectal problems–are more likely to survive colorectal cancer and experience fewer complications. This is attributed to colorectal surgeons advanced training and the high volume of colon and rectal disease surgeries they perform.
Who is at Risk for Colorectal Cancer?
The risk of developing this cancer increases with age. All men and women age 45 and older are at risk for developing colon cancer, and should be screened. Get screened if you are younger than 45 and have a personal or family history of inflammatory bowel disease; colorectal cancer or polyps; or ovarian endometrial or breast cancer.
Current screening methods include fecal occult blood testing (a simple chemical test can detect hidden blood in the stool), x-ray studies and colonoscopy for visual examination of the entire colon. The most useful screening tool for colon cancer is a colonoscopy however. This allows the doctor to visualize the entire colon and treat polyps and potentially early cancers by removing them at the time of the procedure.