OP-ED: Colon Cancer Awareness

Mar 13, 2017 Issues: Health Care

Op-Ed Column

By: Mrs. Brenda Fleischmann

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women in the United States with an estimated 135,430 new cases expected this year, including 3,080 in Tennessee.  More than 50,000 Americans are likely to die of the disease in 2017. You may think of colorectal cancer as a health issue for your parents or grandparents, but younger adults should also be mindful of the risk factors and symptoms—it’s not just an “old person’s disease.” Take the opportunity to learn more this March as we observe Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

Fewer baby boomers are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer thanks in part to screening, which is recommended beginning at age 50 and can detect pre-cancerous growths before they develop into cancer. While the rate of colorectal cancer is much lower in people younger than age 50, it does impact this demographic. An MD Anderson Cancer Center study predicts that the colorectal cancer rate among adults age 20 to 34 will increase 90 percent by 2030. Early onset colorectal cancer may indicate a family history of the disease, but obesity and physical inactivity are common in younger adults who are diagnosed. More research is needed to determine the reasons for the increase in this age group and decide if screening guidelines should be adjusted.

If you have a family or personal history of colorectal cancer, benign colorectal polyps or inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease), you may need to begin screening earlier than age 50. Inform your health care professional of your family history regardless of your age. Early onset colorectal cancer is often misdiagnosed, ignored or diagnosed late, so it’s important for your doctor to know if you are at increased risk. If you experience bloating, fullness or cramps in the lower abdomen; a change in bowel habits; loss of appetite; or other symptoms discuss them with a health care professional.

Although the colonoscopy is the most widely known method of screening, alternatives are available. An at-home stool DNA test is available for those at average risk and doesn’t require a special diet or bowel preparation.  Like other stool-based tests, however, any positive result would need a follow-up colonoscopy. Flexible sigmoidoscopy is similar to a colonoscopy but views only part of the colon, requires less bowel preparation than a colonoscopy and often uses no sedation. While there are better options currently available for colorectal cancer screening, a capsule endoscopy (camera pill) may be used to take photos of your colon with a tiny camera and then pass through the body naturally. Talk to your health care professional about the options and the best screening method for you. The frequency of screening depends on the test, but everyone should get screened until at least age 75.

Physical inactivity, excessive drinking, or not having a healthy diet may increase your risk. Early detection is not the only way you can prevent colorectal cancer. Exercise, eat balanced meals, and limit your alcoholic beverage intake. Share this information with your loved ones—of all ages—and learn more about colorectal cancer prevention and early detection at www.preventcancer.org.

Brenda Fleischmann is a member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program, and the spouse of U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann. Statistics provided by the National Cancer Institute, MD Anderson Cancer Center and the American Cancer Society.

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