Are You Proactive with Screenings for Colorectal Cancer?Cancer
By Joy Stephenson-Laws JD, Founder
March is colorectal cancer month, and each year at this time I am reminded it took the life of my brother at the age of 65. What is even more intriguing is for years prior to his death, he was told by doctors to get a colonoscopy but he never did. I do not think he really appreciated the importance of getting a colonoscopy until after he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Like many of us, he did not take the time to focus on preventive health care because he had no apparent symptoms. There appears to be a human tendency to generally wait until we are sick or have symptoms before we focus on our health.
Understandably, there are so many other priorities in our lives such as family, work and vacations that taking time to look for something that may not exist may very well be a time-consuming nuisance. However, screening for colorectal cancer saves lives.
According to the US Food and Drug Administration, “[c]olorectal cancer usually starts from polyps or other precancerous growths in the rectum or the colon (large intestine). People with precancerous growths or signs of colorectal cancer don’t always show symptoms. That’s why screening is important—doctors can see and remove growths or suspicious tissue before they become cancerous.” The scientific evidence on preventive screenings concluded screening adults ages 50-75 reduces colorectal cancer deaths.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). In 2016, an estimated 134,000 people will be diagnosed with the disease, and about 49,000 will die from it. Colorectal cancer is most frequently diagnosed among adults aged 65 to 74 years, the Task Force reports, and the median age at death from colorectal cancer is 68 years.
What type of screening is best?
“The USPSTF found no head-to-head studies demonstrating that any of the screening strategies considered are more effective than others,” the Task Force wrote, “although the tests have varying levels of evidence supporting their effectiveness, as well as different strengths and limitations.”
The goal is to increase the number of screenings to reduce the number of deaths from colorectal cancer. So if uneasiness about getting a colonoscopy has prevented you from getting screened, read here for other types of screenings, and talk to your doctor about your concerns. For example, there are options for direct visualization tests as well as stool-based tests.
What about any harms of screening?
“The harms of screening for colorectal cancer in adults aged 50 to 75 years are small,” the Task Force explained. The majority of harms result from the use of a colonoscopy. Harmful effects are more likely with people of older age. Therefore, Task Force wrote, “the harms of screening for colorectal cancer in adults 76 years and older are small to moderate.”
The benefit overall, though, is well worth it, the Task Force found.
“The USPSTF concludes with high certainty that the net benefit (i.e, the benefit minus the harms) of screening for colorectal cancer in adults aged 50 to 75 years is substantial.”
So if you are over 50, what are you waiting for? Be proactive! Get screened today. Remember, “[w]e may never understand illnesses such as cancer. In fact, we may never cure it. But an ounce of prevention is worth more than a million pounds of cure.” (David Agus).
Enjoy Your Healthy Life!
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