BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. – Colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

“March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. The Cecil B. Highland, Jr. & Barbara B. Highland Cancer Center at United Hospital Center would like to encourage colorectal cancer screenings,” Linda Carte, R.N., M.S.N., vice president of cancer services and post-acute care, said. “Regular screening tests help to find precancerous polyps (abnormal, grape-like growths on the wall of the intestine) early, so these can be removed before the polyps can become cancerous; therefore, treatment is more effective.”

This form of cancer is as common in women as it is in men. This year in the United States, more than 140,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than 50,000 will die of the disease. In North Central West Virginia, colon cancer is the fourth most diagnosed cancer.

“You could have polyps or colorectal cancer and may not be aware,” Carte said. “Several screening tests detect colorectal cancer early, when it can be more easily and successfully treated.”

People at Risk

  • People age 50 and older
  • People who smoke
  • People who are overweight or obese, especially those who carry fat around their waists
  • People who aren’t physically active
  • People who drink alcohol in excess, especially men
  • People who eat a lot of red meat (such as beef, pork, or lamb) or processed meat (such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs, or cold cuts)
  • People with personal or family histories of colorectal cancer or benign (not cancerous) colorectal polyps
  • People with personal histories of inflammatory bowel disease (such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
  • People with family histories of inherited colorectal cancer or inherited colorectal problems

Risk Reduction and Early Detection

  • Be physically active for at least 30 minutes, at least five days a week.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, quit.
  • If you drink alcohol, have no more than one drink a day if you’re a woman or two drinks a day if you’re a man.
  • Eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to help you get and stay healthy.
  • Eat less red meat and cut out processed meat.

If you’re at average risk for colorectal cancer, start getting screened at age 50. If you’re at higher risk, you may need to start regular screening at an earlier age and be screened more often. If you’re older than 75, ask your doctor if you should continue to be screened. The best time to get screened is before you have any symptoms.

Use this information to help you talk about screening options with your health care professional.

Consider one of these tests:

Tests that find pre-cancer and cancer

  • Colonoscopy -- every 10 years
  • Virtual colonoscopy -- every 5 years
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy -- every 5 years
  • Double-contrast barium enema -- every 5 years

Tests that mainly find cancer

  • Stool occult blood test (FOBT) (guaiac) -- every year
  • Stool immunochemical test (FIT) -- every year
  • Stool DNA test (sDNA) -- ask your health care professional because technology is evolving

An abnormal result of a virtual colonoscopy or a double-contrast barium enema, or a positive FOBT, FIT, or sDNA test, should be followed up with a colonoscopy.

Symptoms

Early stages of colorectal cancer don’t usually have symptoms. Later on, people may have these symptoms:

  • Bleeding from the rectum or blood in or on the stool
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Stools that are more narrow than usual
  • General problems in the abdomen, such as bloating, fullness, or cramps
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or a feeling in the rectum that the bowel movement isn’t quite complete
  • Weight loss for no apparent reason
  • Being tired all the time
  • Vomiting

If you have any of these symptoms, see your healthcare professional.

Treatment

Surgery is the most common treatment. When the cancer has spread, chemotherapy or radiation may be given before or after surgery.

Survival Rate

When colorectal cancer is detected early and treated, the five-year survival rate is 90 percent. However, less than 50 percent of U.S. adults age 50 and older have been screened according to recommended guidelines. Due to low screening rates, less than 40 percent of colorectal cancers are found early and when diagnosed late, the five-year survival rate drops to only 10 percent.  

UHC will be holding a men’s cancer screening on Friday, March 18 and a women’s cancer screening in October.

For more information on the Cecil B. Highland, Jr., & Barbara B. Highland Cancer Center at UHC, please call 681-342-1804.  

The information contained in this article should not be construed as medical advice. All questions regarding your health or possible health problems should be directed to your physician.

For more information: Matt Chisler, Director of Public Relations at United Hospital Center, 681-342-1611