The Rising Threat of Colorectal Cancer and the Importance of Early Screening

Rates of colorectal cancer are on the rise. In the US and other parts of the developed world, people seem to be developing this cancer earlier in life, for reasons that are still not clear to scientists. This cancer has become the leading cause of cancer-related death in males under 50 and the second leading cause of cancer-related death in women under 50, making this the third most common form of cancer overall.

However, colorectal cancer that is detected early enough can be treated effectively. In fact, many cases can be cured if detected in an early stage. This makes screening for colorectal cancer, which is generally recommended for people aged 45 or older, an essential component of prevention and treatment. To learn more about this subject, we sat down with colorectal cancer survivor Leigh Anne.

Leigh Anne’s Story

In the US, one of the most common screening methods is a colonoscopy. Leigh Anne was generally diligent about keeping up with her health with annual appointments, but when her doctor told her repeatedly that it was time for a colonoscopy, she hesitated:

“I just didn’t see the point. Breast cancer runs in my family, skin cancer and oral cancer have too, but never colon cancer. There was no symptoms nor background…so I didn’t see the point of such as invasive procedure.”

There’s no denying that a colonoscopy can be an unpleasant experience. However, less intrusive approaches have been developed, including home stool tests. Leigh Anne promised her doctor to conduct one of these at home tests, and if it was positive, she would then have a colonoscopy:

“I took the Cologuard test, and it did return positive. I had a colonoscopy in November 2021, and cancer was discovered.”

Leigh Anne’s tumor was in a relatively early stage. In order to cure the cancer, she had eight inches of colon removed. 

“I was eleven years past the time that most doctors recommend having a colonoscopy. I’m so grateful that I started the screening when I did, or I would be telling a very different story.”

Aside from anxiety around colonoscopies, other barriers to screening can include access barriers, difficulty taking time off work, or lack of health insurance. Home stool tests can help mitigate these issues, and stories like Leigh Anne’s highlight the importance of getting screened. 

About Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer, which is also known as colon or bowel cancer, appears in the large intestine. There are a number of potential risk factors that can increase a person’s risk of getting colorectal cancer, such as inflammatory bowel disease, an inactive lifestyle, old age, being male, smoking, a diet high in fat, processed meat, alcohol, and red meat, obesity, and family history. Some patients often do not present with symptoms early in the disease; when symptoms appear, they can include fatigue, bloody stool, changes in bowel movements, weight loss, constipation, loss of appetite, rectal bleeding, and nausea/vomiting. Treatment options for colorectal cancer include surgery, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. The five-year survival rate in the US is 65 percent. Screening for this cancer is recommended by age 50 or even earlier. To learn more about colorectal cancer, click here.

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