You may have noticed that during March, Winona Health was lit up in blue at night as part of an effort to increase awareness of the importance of screening for colon cancer. I hope many people not only took notice, but also decided to make their appointment for screening. Why do I care?
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the US (excluding skin cancer) and it is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the US. The good news: The death rate from Colorectal Cancer is decreasing. This in large part is due to widespread colorectal cancer screening. Screening allows us to find precancerous polyps and cancers at an earlier stage so that we can provide treatment.
Many colorectal cancer risk factors cannot be controlled. Older people, African Americans, Jews of Eastern European descent, and those who have certain inherited syndromes are at increased risk. Also, people who have type II diabetes or a first-degree relative with colorectal cancer are at increased risk.
An average risk individual should start colorectal cancer screening at the age of 50. But if you have any one of the risk factors mentioned above, talk to your primary care provider about earlier screening.
Although not all risk factors are in your control, there are things that anyone can do to help decrease their chance of developing colorectal cancer:
- Be physically active which will help maintain a healthy weight.
- Avoid tobacco.
- Do not use alcohol excessively.
- Eat a well-balanced diet including emphasizing fish and chicken over red meats and processed meats.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Get a colorectal cancer screening (colonoscopy) beginning at age 50 or as recommended.
Seeking appropriate screening is probably the most impactful step any individual can take. Colonoscopy is the gold standard for screening, as it identifies both polyps and colorectal cancer and allows for diagnosis and possible treatment by removing the pre-cancerous or cancerous polyps at the same time. However, there are a few other colorectal screening tests.
A CT colonoscopy will identify possible polyps and colorectal cancer, but cannot make a definitive diagnosis or provide treatment.
There are also some tests that primarily diagnose cancer. A stool DNA test (i.e. Cologuard) is a stool sample test for shed cancer cells. It is a very sensitive test, but not specific—meaning there are false positives. Other tests include the Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) and the Guaiac based Fecal Occult Blood Test (gFOBT) both of which test stool for blood.
Every test has its advantages and disadvantages. The key is to get some type of colorectal cancer screening and follow through on any positive results. Your healthcare provider’s goal is to have you be screened so we can detect any abnormalities in time for them to be easily and effectively treated.
If you are due for a screening, or if you are over 50 and have never been screened for colorectal cancer, call us. My fellow General Surgeons, Dr. Wen-Yu Vicky Haines and Dr. Crystal Lumi, and our team will take great care of you. Call the General Surgery department at 507.457.7670 and our staff will help you with the next step.