Colorectal cancer has an alarmingly high rate of diagnosis and mortality. Currently, it is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer deaths. But, this isn’t what makes it alarming. Instead, the thing that makes these numbers so disturbing is the fact that colorectal cancer is largely preventable. In fact, over half of all cases of colorectal cancer could be avoided through timely screenings.
Colorectal cancer develops slowly, over a course of many years and, in most cases, begins as a polyp. This type of growth along the inner surface of the colon may be completely benign. In fact, most are. However, some are considered pre-cancerous, and it is these that account for the majority of colorectal cancer diagnoses.
Catching Colorectal Cancer before it Starts
Identifying polyps early in their development, before they have the opportunity to grow into cancer, is critical in the prevention of colorectal cancer. This is why guidelines recommend that both men and women of average risk begin screenings such as colonoscopies at age 50, and sooner for those who are determined to be at a higher risk. The development of colorectal cancer, more so than any other, hinges on early detection.
How is Colorectal Cancer Detected Early?
Colonoscopy is the most recognizable treatment for the detection of colorectal cancer and various other colorectal diseases. Through this procedure, physicians can view the colon and look for abnormalities while using a camera and a small, flexible tube. Not only this, but if any potential problems are seen, a biopsy can be taken for immediate testing. For these reasons, colonoscopies set the bar for screening procedures. However, patients should note that there are other options that can help indicate the presence of a problem.
While other options should not take the place of a colonoscopy when recommended by a physician, the American Cancer Society points to the following tests to detect the potential presence of cancer:
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
- Double-contrast barium enema
- CT colonography
- Fecal occult blood test
- Stool DNA test
A concerning result on any of these tests is an indication to investigate further, sometimes with life-saving results.
Colorectal cancer is far too easily detected and prevented to be associated with such a high mortality rate. Education is crucial in driving home the importance of timely screening. Patients should speak with their physician to understand their own potential risk for developing the disease and follow proper screening measures.
All it takes is a simple test to potentially save a life.