These common cancers may be curable if caught early.
“Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States,” says Elliot Newman, MD, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health System. “The incidence is certainly increasing, and we believe that’s because we are picking up more and more tumors at earlier stages.”
Colorectal cancer is a type of cancer that affects the lower digestive tract, specifically the colon or the rectum. On average, 4.5 percent of U.S. men and 4.2 percent of women will develop colorectal cancer at some point in their life, according to the American Cancer Society.
“The good news is the death rate from colon cancer has been dropping. And that’s because people are being screened, the disease is being picked up at earlier stages, and we’re able to cure people,” says Dr. Newman.
How Colon Cancer Is Caught Early
Colon cancer can be detected early by screening tests, usually by a procedure called a colonoscopy. Undergoing a screening colonoscopy can prevent colon cancer by allowing doctors to discover polyps or precancerous lesions in the colon or rectum. These abnormal growths can then be removed before they develop into cancer. (Learn more about what to expect during a colonoscopy.)
Regular colonoscopy screening—and the removal of polyps—reduces the risk of developing colon cancer by 90 percent, according to UpToDate from Wolters Kluwer.
When to Get Screened for Colon Cancer
“Knowing when to get screened changes based on your risk profile,” says Dr. Newman. “For average risk patients, we recommend starting at age 50. Then depending on the results of that first colonoscopy, it can be anywhere from five to 10 years for your next one.”
People with risk factors for colon cancer are often recommended to start screening earlier and be screened more often. These risk factors for colon cancer include:
Patients with inflammatory bowel disease
Lifestyle issues like poor diet or cigarette use
“These are not hard and fast rules. The best thing to recommend is that people with these problems consult with their physicians based on their individual situation,” says Dr. Newman. “So the message to people is: If you go for screenings at the proper times based on your personal risk, you have the best chance of picking up disease either in a precancerous stage or in an early stage of the cancer where our chance to cure you is certainly the highest.”
Dr. Newman is the chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health System, and a professor at Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.
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Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers
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in the United States.
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The incidence is certainly increasing, and we believe
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that's because we are picking up more and more tumors
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at earlier stages because of screening and people going for
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proper evaluations to see if they have these diseases.
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Knowing when to get screened changes based on your risk profile.
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For average-risk patients, we recommend starting at age 50,
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and then depending on the results of that first colonoscopy,
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it could be anywhere from 5 to 10 years for your next one.
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For higher-risk patients, for example, people with a family history
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of colon cancer, we often recommend that if the family history
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is a first-degree relative, that it's 10 years earlier
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than whenever that patient had their index colon cancer.
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For people with inflammatory bowel disease,
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we recommend starting screenings, on average, 8 to 10 years
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after they're diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease
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in a more intense way.
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These are not hard and fast rules,
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and the best thing to recommend is that people with these problems
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consult with their physicians based on their individual situation
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to know what the best time to start screening is.
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Screening colonscopy is done generally by gastroenterologists,
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and in an otherwise average-risk patient,
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they have a routine colonoscopy, looking for any polyps
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or potential precancerous or even cancerous lesions.
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The good news is the death rate from colon cancer has been dropping,
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and that's because people are being screened,
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the disease is being picked up at earlier stages,
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and we're able to cure people.
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So the message to people is if you go for screenings
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at the proper times, based on your personal risk,
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you have the best chance of picking up disease
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either in a precancerous stage or in an early stage of the cancer,
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where our chance to cure you is certainly the highest.
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Colon and rectal cancer screening (Beyond the Basics). UptoDate. (Accessed on December 20, 2019 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/colon-and-rectal-cancer-screening-beyond-the-basics)Key statistics for colorectal cancer. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society. (Accessed on December 20, 2019 at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/about/key-statistics.html.)