Staying ahead of colorectal cancer

February 28, 2019
Aiken Health News Winter 2019

Screenings and knowledge are the keys to treatment and prevention

The American Cancer Society reports that colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women, and it’s estimated that in the U.S. alone, there will be 101,420 cases of colon cancer and 44,180 cases of rectal cancer in 2019.

Colon cancer is known as a “silent” killer because many people are not aware they have it until they experience symptoms. By that time, the disease may be too far along to effectively treat. The irony is that it is one of the most preventable cancers and very treatable, if caught early. “When caught in the earliest stages, about 80-90 percent of patients can be treated successfully,” says Gastroenterologist and Internal Medicine Specialist Ayaz Chaudhary, MD. “But if it’s not diagnosed until further along, the cure rate falls to about 50 percent.”

The importance of screening

The “gold standard” for evaluation of your colon is a colonoscopy. “The goal is to help prevent colon cancer through screening,” says Dr. Chaudhary. During this procedure, the lining of the colon and rectum is checked for polyps or cancer. About 25 percent of people will have polyps the first time they have a colonoscopy. But by finding and removing them early, you can help prevent colon cancer.

Get screened

Regular screening should begin at age 50, unless you have risk factors, in which case, screening should begin earlier. Risk factors include having inflammatory bowel disease; a personal or family history of colorectal polyps or genetic factors; a diet high in red meat and processed meats; low-fiber diet; obesity; smoking; and heavy alcohol use. The American Cancer Society reports that just being over age 50 increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer, and that approximately nine out of 10 people who develop colorectal cancer are at least 50 years old. Your doctor can advise you on the optimal time to get screened.

Treating colorectal cancer

The first approach to treatment for most patients is surgery, followed by chemotherapy, if needed, explains Brett Slack, Director of the Cancer Care Institute of Carolina. A pathology report determines the stage of cancer and an ultrasound or a CT scan helps stage the cancer preoperatively. Some patients may need chemotherapy and radiation before the surgery to shrink the tumor, making removal easier. “The earlier the diagnosis, the better the prognosis,” he says. Slack also recommends that people take advantage of an in-home colorectal cancer screening kit, which Aiken Regional provides for free during the month of March

Learn more about cancer treatment >

Know the symptoms

Awareness is the key to prevention, especially if you have a prior family history of colon cancer. The most common symptom for colon cancer is lower abdominal pain that varies in location and intensity.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Changes in bowel habits and consistency
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss

Many of these symptoms can mimic other health issues, such as hemorrhoids or irritable bowel disease. That’s why it’s important to see your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms, so they can determine the cause.

Get a free colorectal cancer screening kit

Colorectal cancer is often preventable and treatable if detected early. Aiken Regional is providing FREE colorectal cancer screening kits during the month of March. The kit contains a test designed to detect small amounts of hidden blood in your stool, which can indicate early problems with polyps or cancer. The test is performed in the privacy of your home and requires only a minimal stool sample.

Free screening kits are no longer available