What do I need to know about colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer is caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in the colon or rectum. It is the third most common cancer in the United States, occurring most often in people over the age of 50 (www.cancercare.org). However, one in five colorectal cancer patients are between 20 and 54 years old and it is the 3rd leading cause of cancer deaths in young adults. While rates of colorectal cancer have recently been declining among adults 50 years and older, incidence of colorectal cancer is increasing among adults under age 50. Due to this increasing incidence, screening guidelines have recently changed. The new guidelines lower colorectal screening age from 50 to 45 years old. Adults who are at average risk for colorectal cancer would get regular colonoscopies when they turned 50. In May 2021, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued new recommendations for colorectal cancer stating that people at average risk should start screening at age 45.
Colorectal cancer is most treatable when found early. Colonoscopies detect disease, but also prevent cancer as precancerous polyps can be removed during the procedure. There are also several other screening tests that can be used as well, depending on patient, physician preference, and test availability. These tests include a FIT (fecal immunochemical test) or gFOBT (guaiac-based fecal occult blood test) every year, stool DNA test every three years, a CT colonography or flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, or colonoscopy every 10 years. The recent recommendations do not prioritize any one test over another. People with a higher risk of colorectal cancer, such as a positive family history, should ask their physician to determine the best age to start screening. It certain cases, this may even be earlier than 45.
As with every disease or illness, paying attention to our bodies can be lifesaving. Recognizing symptoms of colorectal cancer can prompt swift testing and treatment that can save lives. Symptoms of colorectal cancer are:
• A persistent change in your bowel habits; including diarrhea or constipation, or a change in the consistency of your stool.
• Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool (bright red, maroon, or black, tarry stools).
• Persistent abdominal discomfort; such as cramps, gas or pain.
• A feeling that your bowel does not empty completely, even after having a bowel movement.
• Weakness, fatigue, or anemia.
• Unexplained weight loss.
If you have any of the above symptoms, issues that are worrisome to you, or you are approaching age 45, promptly speak to your doctor about being screened.
Maria H. Drzaszcz, a Hammonton resident, is a registered nurse with 14 years critical care experience and is the proud mom of three young children.