Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Colorectal Cancer: The Importance of Early Detection and Understanding Screening Options

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Content and information provided by Rebecca Bergeron, RN, BSN, OCN Director of Clinical Services for Provision CARES Proton Therapy Knoxville

This week, we’re going to talk about number two- the second leading cause of cancer death, that is. Colorectal cancer is highly preventable through early detection, yet many people remain unaware of their options for screening. Screening is especially important for preventing colorectal cancer because the disease usually does not have noticeable symptoms until it is advanced.

The U.S. Preventative Task Force recommends that people age 50 to 75 be screened for colorectal cancer, and that those age 76 to 85 discuss screening with their doctor[1]. People at higher risk for colorectal cancer should be screened earlier. A personal or family history of precancerous polyps or colorectal cancer or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, familial adenomatous polyposis, or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer increases a person’s risk. There are several preventable risk factors for colorectal cancer as well, such as excessive alcohol use, obesity, physical inactivity, smoking, and certain diet factors.

There are many options for colorectal cancer screening. The Fecal Occult Blood test checks for trace amounts of blood in the stool that may not be visible. These tests should be performed yearly and have shown to reduce colorectal cancer deaths by 15 to 33%. The Stool DNA test detects trace amounts of blood as well as three genes that have been found in colorectal cancer and precancerous advanced adenomas. Advantages of these two screening tools are that an invasive procedure is not required, and samples can be collected at home and sent to a laboratory for analysis.

The sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy are similar screening exams in that a scope is used to visualize colorectal tissue. The sigmoidoscopy is an examination of the sigmoid and rectum while the colonoscopy is an examination of the rectum and entire colon. Sigmoidoscopy can reduce risk of death from cancer of the sigmoid and lower colon by 60-70%. The colonoscopy requires more preparation to clear the bowel and sedation is required for the procedure, but it is the most complete screening exam available. Another advantage of sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy is that lesions suspicious for cancer can be removed at the time of the procedure.

In addition to screening, there are some steps you can take on your own to help reduce your risk of colorectal cancer. Consume a diet high in vegetables and grains and low in red and processed meats. Increase your physical activity and maintain a healthy weight. Do not smoke and limit alcohol intake to no more than one drink daily for women and two drinks daily for men. One drink is equal to 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1 ½ ounces of liquor[2].

[1] Colorectal (Colon) Cancer. (2016, July 7th). Retrieved from National Cancer Institute: https://www.cancer.gov/types/colorectal/screening-fact-sheet#q1

[2]Six Ways to Lower Your Risk for Colon Cancer. (2017, February 28). Retrieved from American Cancer Society: https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/six-ways-to-lower-your-risk-for-colon-cancer.html

For more information about colorectal cancer and proton therapy as a treatment option, call 865-978-6623 to speak with a clinical team member.