Colorectal screening can save lives

Colorectal screening can save lives

Source: Parkland Hospital, Dallas

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death of the cancers that strike both men and women, but only 40 percent of the U.S. population is screened for the disease, even though early detection has proven to be an effective life-saver.

The American Cancer Society estimates that about 93,000 new cases of colon cancer and an estimated 40,000 new cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed in 2015.

Average risk patients should be screened for CRC beginning at age 50. Fecal Immunohistochemistry Test (FIT), a test to check for blood in the stool, and colonoscopy, a flexible scope to look inside the colon, are some the recommended screening tests currently available for patients.

A screening colonoscopy, sometimes earlier than age 50, is recommended for patients at high risk for CRC.

“For example, if there’s a first degree relative with a history of colorectal cancer, a colonoscopy is recommended 10 years prior to the age at which the relative was diagnosed,” said Glen Balch, M.D., Director of Parkland’s Surgical Oncology Clinic and Assistant Professor of Surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas.

In 2012, 148 patients were treated at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas, for colorectal cancer. Of those, 90 were male and 58 were female. The majority were between the ages of 50 and 59.

While overall rates of colorectal cancer among individuals younger than 50 are still quite low, recent research has shown slight increases. For this reason, it’s recommended that patients be assessed to determine their risk for CRC no later than age 20.

Colorectal cancers almost always develop from precancerous polyps – abnormal growths in the colon or rectum. Screening is important, Dr. Balch said, because colorectal polyps and early-stage colorectal cancer don’t always cause symptoms. If there are symptoms, they may include blood in your stool; stomach pains, aches or cramps that don’t go away, or unexplained weight loss. Using a colonoscopy, physicians can detect if any polyps are present and remove them before they can turn into cancer.

Although the exact cause of most colorectal cancers is not known, about 75 percent occur in people with no known risk factors. But there are some conditions that may increase a person’s risk of developing colorectal cancer, including having a personal or family history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, or genetic predisposition.

While not yet definitive, some research suggests that diet may have a role in whether a person develops colorectal cancer, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Countries such as the U.S. have a higher rate of colorectal cancer than Japan,” Dr. Balch noted, adding that Americans consume diets that are high in fat and low in fiber compared to their Asian counterparts.

The American Cancer Society reported earlier this year that there’s increasing evidence of a link between smoking and colorectal cancer deaths.

To learn more about how to schedule a screening, contact your primary care physician or gastroenterologist.

(WhatDoctorsKnow is a magazine devoted to up-to-the minute information on health issues from physicians, major hospitals and clinics, universities and health care agencies across the U.S. Online at