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March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

March 15, 2022 

New recommendations encourage colon cancer screenings at the age of 45.

HSHS Holy Family Hospital and HSHS Medical Group recognize Colon Cancer Awareness Month in March and remind all about an important update in colon cancer screening recommendations announced late last year. 

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the American Cancer Society now recommend adults age 45 to 75 be screened for colon cancer, and adults age 76 to 85 ask their doctor if they should be screened. Previously, it was recommended adults begin colon cancer screening at age 50. The reduction in age from 50 to 45 is in part due to findings from the USPSTF that an estimated 10.5% of new colorectal cancer cases occur in persons younger than 50 years. 

Dr. Peter Kim, HSHS Medical Group gastroenterologist, says by lowering the age for suggested colon cancer screenings, doctors will be able to identify more cases earlier.

“Studies have shown that the overall chances of developing colon cancer have come down significantly in the past 30 years. However, the studies are also showing that for people in the 40-to-50-year age group, the chances of developing colon cancer are going up a bit,” says Dr. Kim. “Our goal is to change this trend by screening people for cancer when they’re in their mid-40’s.”

Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum and is the third leading cause of death for both men and women, according to the American Cancer Society. An estimated 52,980 people in the U.S. are projected to die of colorectal cancer in 2022.  People at an increased risk for colorectal cancer include those with:

  • Personal or family history of colorectal polyps or cancer.
  • Personal history of breast, uterine or ovarian cancer.
  • Chronic ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.

However, many of those who will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer will not have a family history and will have no symptoms.  

Dr. Kim said, “In the early stages of colorectal cancer, many people don’t usually have any symptoms until the condition has evolved. That is why it is important not to delay preventive screenings when you are eligible. The earlier we can detect signs of colon cancer, hopefully in its pre-cancerous stages, that increases our chance of eliminating it to keep you healthy,” he said. 

Those at higher risk for colorectal cancer (such as those with family history or above identified conditions) should discuss with their doctor when they should have a colonoscopy, the most common and effective way to screen for colorectal cancer. Those with these risk factors may need a colonoscopy well before age 45.

“The difference between colonoscopies and other cancer screenings, such as mammograms and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests, is that with colonoscopies we can find the cancer and also prevent it removing polyps,” said Dr. Kim.  

For those at average risk of colorectal cancer, 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.

In addition to regular screening for colorectal cancer, you may also be able to lower your risk by:

  • Avoiding foods high in fat.
  • Adding plenty of vegetables, fruits and other high-fiber foods to your diet.
  • Exercising regularly and maintaining a normal body weight.
  • Not smoking.
  • Drinking alcohol only in moderation.

Warning signs of colorectal cancer can include:

  • Blood in or on the stool.
  • Recurring shifts in normal bowel habits such as experiencing diarrhea or constipation for no known reason.
  • Thinning of the stool.
  • Increases in stomach discomfort (bloating, gas, fullness and/or cramps that last more than a few days).
  • A feeling that the bowel does not empty completely.
  • Weight loss for no known reason.
  • Constant and unexplained fatigue.

Routine health screenings such as colonoscopies continue to be highly important, especially after the past years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Early detection of health issues is key, and HSHS Holy Family Hospital and HSHS Medical Group urge people to not delay having preventive cancer screenings.

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March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month