Colorectal cancer continues to be the second leading cancer killer for both men and women combined in the United States, even though it is 90 percent preventable and 90 percent treatable when detected early.
Most people do not realize that you can actually prevent colon cancer, in many cases, by simply having a colonoscopy. Colorectal cancer, which includes cancers of the colon and/or rectum, is equally common in both men and women. It is also one of the most easily preventable cancers because it can develop from polyps that can be removed before they become cancerous.
Fewer than 50 percent of adults age 50 or older have had one of the readily available colorectal cancer screening tests within the recommended time periods. When detected at an early, localized stage, colorectal cancers are nearly 100 percent curable; however, only 39 percent of these cancers are diagnosed at this stage, mostly due to low rates of screening.
Polyps and colorectal cancer may not cause symptoms, especially at first. And, like many cancers, the development of colorectal cancer can take many years which is why screening is such an important tool.
We’ve come so far in recent years. In fact the incidence rates for colorectal cancer have been decreasing for the last two decades specifically because of the increase in people having screening tests. But it’s still not enough. Researchers estimate that if everyone age 50 or older received regular colorectal cancer screenings, at least one-third of the deaths would be prevented.
Colon cancer is responsible for 10-11 percent of all cancer deaths. One out of every three people who develop colon cancer will die from it; most commonly because it is diagnosed at a late stage. Colonoscopies help to prevent these deaths.
Colonoscopy is at least as important as mammography. Since colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in both men and women, we could prevent great suffering if more people would take advantage of the screenings that are available.
Fred A. Levin, MD is a Board Certified Gastroenterologist with East Atlanta Gastroenterology and practices at Rockdale Medical Center.