March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

March 18, 2022 

HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial 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. Nitin Kumar, HSHS Medical Group gastroenterologist, says by lowering the age for suggested colon cancer screenings, doctors will be able to identify more cases earlier.

“What we have been noticing is the overall chances of developing colon cancer have come down significantly in the past 30 years; however, in the 40-to-50-year age group they’re actually going up a bit,” says Dr. Kumar. “By screening people for cancer when they’re in their mid-40’s, we may be able to mitigate this trend.”

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. Kumar said, “It is important to get screened as the early stages of colorectal cancer don’t usually have symptoms until the condition has more evolved.  The earlier we can spot any signs of colon cancer that may be present or in its pre-cancerous stages, the better chance we have of eliminating it and keeping you healthy and safe,” he said. “If caught early, colorectal cancer can be successfully treated, so it is important not to delay preventive screenings when you are eligible.”  

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 important fact about colonoscopy is that it doesn’t just find cancer – it prevents cancer, by removing polyps,” said Dr. Kumar.  “This makes it unique to other cancer screenings, such as mammograms and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests.  Preventing illness before it develops into a more serious condition is the best part of our jobs.” 

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 St. Anthony’s and HSHS Medical Group urge people to not delay having preventive cancer screenings.

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March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month