The Doctor Is In: Colorectal Cancer, Screening Saves Lives

Content is sponsored by Henry Ford Health System:

Expert: Craig Reickert, M.D., division head of Colon and Rectal Surgery, Henry Ford Cancer Institute

It's estimated that more than 135,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than 50,000 people will die from the disease. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death from cancer in the U.S., and third most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women. One in 22 men and one in 24 women will be diagnosed in their lifetime; the average age for diagnosis are people ages 65-74.

Thanks to heightened awareness and increased screening, rates for new cases have declined on average 3.2 percent in the past 10 years in that age demographic.  However, recent research studies have shown a trend of new cases being diagnosed among people under age 50. Reasons for the increase are unclear, though researchers theorize it could be related to lifestyle factors such as obesity, lack of exercise and unhealthy diet.

Risk Factors
Diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes are at increased risk.
Diet. High consumption of red meat and processed meat.
Family history. An estimated 30 percent of people diagnosed have a family history, and 5 percent is related to an inherited gene.
Inflammatory bowel disease.
Lack of exercise.
Moderate and heavy alcohol use.
Obesity, overweight.

Conversely, a diet high in fiber, fruits and vegetables and regular exercise will help reduce your risk of getting colorectal cancer.

Common Symptoms
Blood (bright red or very dark) in the stool.
Change in bowel habits.
Diarrhea, constipation.
Frequent gas pains, bloating or cramps.
Extreme tiredness.
Weight loss for no known reason.

Screening is highly effective for reducing your risk of getting colorectal cancer. Beginning at age 50, screening is recommended for anyone at average risk for developing colorectal cancer. Currently, these three tests are considered preventive and covered by the Affordable Care Act (check with your health insurance plan for specific details):

Colonoscopy. Generally performed every 10 years. Michigan is in the top third of states with the highest colonoscopy screening rates.
CT colonography (also known as a virtual colonoscopy). Generally performed every five years.
Flexible sigmoidoscopy. Generally performed every five years.

A newer test is a stool DNA test that can be performed in the comfort of your home. Available by prescription only, check with your doctor to see if it's recommended. Your stool is tested for DNA markers or blood that are associated with precancer or colon cancer. 

Sources: American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute