Know your risk and don't delay preventive screenings which could save your life.

This month is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital and HSHS Medical Group want people to understand how important it is to not delay preventive screenings which could detect colon cancer in its earliest stages. 

Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum and is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 149,500 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year and an estimated 52,980 will die of the disease. Most of these patients do not have a family history, and many patients have no symptoms.  It is important to get screened as the early stages of colorectal cancer don’t usually have symptoms - if caught early, colorectal cancer can be successfully treated, so it is important not to delay preventive screenings.  Better yet, colonoscopy can remove polyps before they develop into cancer.  

Risk factors for colorectal cancer include:

  • Age 50 and older
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight or obese, especially those who carry fat around their waists
  • Type 2 (usually non-insulin dependent) diabetes
  • Eating a lot of red meat (ex. beef, pork, lamb) or processed meat (ex. bacon, sausage, hot dogs, cold cuts)
  • Personal or family histories of colorectal cancer or benign colorectal polyps
  • Personal histories of inflammatory bowel disease (such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
  • Family histories of inherited colorectal cancer or inherited colorectal problems

If you are at average risk for colorectal cancer, you should start getting screened at age 45. People at higher risk for colorectal cancer (such as those with prior polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, and family history) may need to start screening at an earlier age and be screened more often. After age 75, you should ask your doctor if you need to continue to be screened. The best time to get screened is before you have any symptoms. 

There are less invasive tests that have been developed that find cancer, including the fecal occult blood test (FOBT), fecal immunochemical test (FIT) and stool DNA test (sDNA). The FOBT and FIT need to be performed annually. Because sDNA technology is still evolving, you should talk to your health care provider about how often this test is needed. When these tests come back positive, they should be followed up with a colonoscopy.

“Colonoscopy is important because that it doesn’t just find cancer – it prevents it, by removing polyps,” said Dr. Khondker Islam, HSHS Medical Group gastroenterologist.  “Although less invasive, none of the other screening tests remove polyps – that’s what makes colonoscopy unique.  That is also what makes it different from screenings for other types of cancer, such as mammograms and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests.” In fact, according to a study by the American Cancer Society, there has been a 45% decrease in the incidence of colorectal cancer in the US since the mid-1980s, in large part due to the removal of billions of colorectal polyps before they could become cancer.

If it’s time for your colorectal screening, talk to your primary care provider about scheduling it. They can help you understand which screening is best for you and why.  

For more information, visit

Source: American Cancer Society

Media Contact

Andrew Dilbeck

HSHS Illinois
Office: 217-464-5610

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