Health & Safety

March 27, 2014

Colon Cancer screening saves lives through early detection

Maj. Carla Wiese
375th Medical Group Disease Management 

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill., – Colorectal Cancer, or Colon Cancer, occurs in the colon or rectum. The colon is the large intestine or large bowel and the rectum is the passageway that connects the colon to the anus.

Colon Cancer, when discovered early, is highly treatable. Even if it spreads into nearby lymph nodes, surgical treatment followed by chemotherapy is highly successful. In the most difficult cases–when the cancer has spread to the liver, lungs or other sites–treatment can prolong and add to one’s quality of life.

Most colon cancers develop first as colorectal polyps, which are abnormal growths inside the colon or rectum that may later become cancerous. Colon Cancer affects men and women of all racial and ethnic groups, and is most often found in people 50 years or older. It is the third most common cancer in the United States, behind only lung and prostate cancers in men and lung and breast cancers in women, and the second leading cause of cancer death.

But the truth is: it doesn’t have to be this way. If everyone 50 years or older had a regular screening test, as many as 80 percent of deaths from colon cancer could be prevented. Colon Cancer screening saves lives. Screening detects precancerous polyps and allows them to be removed before turning into cancer. Screening also helps find colon cancer at an early stage, when treatment often leads to a cure.

So please, take control of your life and your health–if you’re turning 50 or are experiencing abnormal symptoms, get screened. Urge those you love to do the same.

Colon Cancer and Age

Ninety percent of new cases and 95 percent of deaths from colon cancer occur in people 50 or older. However, colon cancer does not discriminate and can happen to men and women at any age. While rates for colon cancer in adults 50 and older have been declining, incidence rates in adults younger than 50 years has been increasing.

Colon Cancer and Ethnicity and Race

Jews of Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi Jews) may have a higher rate of colon cancer. Partly because of disproportionate screening, African-American men and women have a higher risk of developing colon cancer and a lower survival rate (about 20 percent higher incidence rate and 45 percent higher mortality rate) compared to Caucasians, Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans. The risk of death is also increased for Native Americans and Alaskan Natives.

Colon Cancer and Family History

People with a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or children) who has colon cancer are between two and three times the risk of developing the cancer than those without a family history.

Colon Cancer Survival Rates

Since the mid-1980s, the colon cancer death rate has been dropping due in part to increased awareness and screening. By finding more polyps and cancer in the earlier (local and regional) stages, it is easiest to treat. Improved treatment options have also contributed to a rise in survival rates. The five-year survival rate for colon cancer found at the local stage is 90 percent; the five-year survival rate for colon cancer found at the regional stage is 70 percent; and the five-year survival rate for colon cancer found at the distant stage is 12 percent.

Screening Can Reduce Your Risk

Early detection is vital–over 90 percent of all cases of colon cancer can be prevented with recommended screening. Despite its high incidence, colon cancer is one of the most detectable and, if found early enough, most treatable forms of cancer. If you’re 50 or older, getting a screening test for colon cancer could save your life.

Here’s how: Colon Cancer usually starts from polyps in the colon or rectum. A polyp is a growth that shouldn’t be there. Over time, some polyps can turn into cancer. Screening tests can find polyps, so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening tests can also find colon cancer early. When it is found early, the chance of being cured is good.

Professional guidelines emphasize the importance of a regular screening program that includes annual fecal occult blood tests, periodic partial or full colon exams, or both. Leaders in the field have estimated that, with widespread adoption of these screening practices, as many as 30,000 lives could be saved each year.

According to the American Cancer Society, the best advice about diet and activity to possibly reduce your risk of colon cancer is to: Increase the intensity and amount of physical activity; limit intake of red and processed meats; get the recommended levels of calcium and vitamin D; eat more vegetables and fruits and maintain a healthy diet; avoid obesity and weight gain around the midsection; and avoid excess alcohol.

Treatment depends mainly on the location of the tumor in the colon or rectum and the stage of the disease. Treatment for colorectal cancer may involve surgery, chemotherapy, biological therapy or radiation therapy. Some people have a combination of treatments. Treatment for colon cancer is sometimes different than treatment for rectal cancer, although treatment can be local therapy or systemic therapy.

To find out more about colon cancer, preventative screenings and treatments go to: www.ccalliance.org




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(U.S. Air Force Illustration by Airman 1st Class Cheyenne Morigeau)

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