March was National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and, keeping in step with the program’s mission to get more Americans in-the-know about preventing colon cancer, the American College of Physicians (ACP) released a statement that adults older than 50 should screen for colon cancer to decrease their chances of cancer-induced death. Their stance was published in the March 6 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.
In the statement, President of the American College of Physicians, Virginia Hood, M.D., said that little more than half of adults over 50 in the US actually get screened, despite a growing body of evidence that colorectal cancer screening is extremely effective in reducing chance of death. The group’s statement included updated guidelines compiled by experts from several medical societies.
Adults over 50 should get checked once every 10 years, but patients with high risk such as those cancer-ridden family members should start at age 40, or 10 years before their youngest relative was diagnosed with colon cancer. Others who may live with increased chances of developing colorectal disease include African-Americans and anybody with a history of ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease or colon polyps.
Most experts agree that the best way to screen for colon cancer is with a colonoscopy. Colonoscopy is a 30-minute medical procedure, possibly longer if growths are detected, during which a small, flexible tube with a camera on it is guided through the rectum and up the gastrointestinal tract. While the tube inside, colonoscopy doctors called gastroenterologists can examine the colon for cancer symptoms. In addition, annual blood tests and a less comprehensive endoscopic procedure called flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years can also be used to screen for cancer, said the ACP.
According to Hood, patients should feel comfortable to discuss their screening options with their doctors. Each procedure comes with its pluses and minuses. Furthermore, regularity of screening and following up with your doctor if anything abnormal is found during a particular test is crucial to effective preventative care.
Patients should note that the ACP does not recommend regular colon cancer screening in anybody over the age of 75 because the risks of colonoscopy and related biopsy procedures is actually higher than the benefits. At that age, pre-cancerous growths are typically slow to develop and would, most likely, not be a problem during the patients’ lifetime.
Behind lung cancer, colon cancer is the most fatal cancer in the United States. The colorectal disease is expected to take away more than 51,000 lives this year alone. All the time, however, more and more studies are providing strong evidence supporting the effectiveness of screening procedures to reduce this number. A very recent study said that people who underwent regular colonoscopies actually increased their chances of living by 53 percent, a huge finding.
[box type=”important”]Those who think they ought to be screened for colon cancer should find a GI doctor in their area to discuss their options.[/box]