PINEHURST – Even though it is one of the five most common cancers in men and women in the United States and one of the leading causes of cancer death, colorectal cancer is preventable.
Because it almost always starts with a small growth called a polyp that can be removed if found early, colorectal cancer can in many cases be stopped before the disease has even gotten started.
“With increased use of screening colonoscopy the number of new cases of colon cancer, as well as the number of deaths from colon cancer, has been decreasing,” says Dr. Ellen Willard, medical director of the FirstHealth Outpatient Cancer Center in Pinehurst.
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a time when Americans are especially encouraged to schedule a colorectal cancer screening or discuss their risk of the disease with their primary care provider.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), colorectal cancer has a five-year survival rate of about 90 percent if found and treated early (while it is small and before it has spread). Because so many people are not being tested, however, only about four of 10 are diagnosed at a stage when treatment is most likely to be successful.
Several tests are used to screen for colon cancer, but the most effective is the “gold standard” colonoscopy, an exam in which the rectum and entire colon are examined with a lighted instrument called a colonoscope. During a single procedure, precancerous and cancerous growths throughout the colon can be found and either removed or biopsied.
Since about 90 percent of all colorectal cancers are found in people age 50 and older, the ACS recommends that people who are not otherwise considered to be at high risk for the disease have their first screening at age 50.
Although the exact causes of colorectal cancer are not known, studies have shown that certain factors are linked to an increased chance that an individual will develop the disease. In addition to age, they include:
- Personal or family history
- A history of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
- Diet, especially with high consumption of red and processed meats and low consumption of whole grains, fruits and vegetables
- A sedentary lifestyle
For more information on cancer services offered by FirstHealth of the Carolinas, visit www.nccancercare.org.