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Colorectal cancer: early detection matters

Last Modified: May 16, 2024

Diseases & Disorders, Community

This post was written based on an appearance by Jeremy Wilson, DO, PPG – General Surgery, on the program PBS Healthline.

Colon cancer remains the third most common cancer for both men and women and the number two cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. The National Institutes of Health estimate 152,000 new colorectal cancer diagnoses in 2024. While this number has been steadily declining due to regular screening, recent research indicates increased rates of advanced colorectal cancer in younger adults. This contradiction has led to recommendations for colorectal screening among adults beginning at a younger age. With this in mind, let's examine the risk factors leading to colorectal cancer, when individuals should consider screening and effective prevention strategies.

What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer, also known as adenocarcinomas, originates in the colon or rectum as polyps or abnormal tissue growth on the mucous membrane. Identifying and removing polyps in this stage can prevent the growth from progressing into cancer.

Symptoms can vary depending on the location of the tumor, but if present, they can look like changes in bowel habits, rectal bleeding or blood in the stool.

Who is most vulnerable?

Everyone has some degree of probability of developing colon or rectal cancer; however, this risk continuously increases with age, as well as certain genetic factors and lifestyle habits. Common causes that contribute to increased risk of colorectal cancer include: 

When should I begin screening?

Nationally, colorectal cancer screening programs aim to achieve a greater than 80% compliance rate, but a third of people who are eligible for screening haven't had one. All adults between ages 45 and 75 should participate in regular colon screenings every ten years, but this recommendation can fluctuate for individuals depending on their risk factors. 

Someone who is predisposed due to other chronic conditions or has a first-degree relative who has been diagnosed with colorectal cancer should consider screening at an earlier age. As a general rule of thumb, start screening at 40 years old or ten years younger than the youngest person diagnosed. In this instance, if the family member received a diagnosis at 40, younger relatives should begin screening at 30 and then follow up for screening every five years. 

Recent research has highlighted an elevated risk of colorectal cancer among younger adults attributed to less frequent screening, leading to the progression of polyps into advanced cancer stages. Additionally, environmental factors such as poor dietary choices, sedentary lifestyles and tobacco and alcohol consumption contribute to this disparity. Individuals in these categories should also begin screening at a younger age and follow up for additional screenings based on their test results.

Prevention and treatment

Routine colorectal screening is the most effective method for reducing colon and rectal cancer risk. A colonoscopy, while only one of several options available for screening, is the most beneficial test for patients with an increased risk. 

This procedure involves inspecting the entire large intestine (colon) using an extended, flexible, lighted viewing scope (colonoscope). If the physician detects polyps during the colonoscopy, they can remove the growths at that time and collect tissue samples for further testing. 

Watch this video for a closer look at a colonoscopy.

Early detection provides the best treatment outcomes, with 80-90% of patients able to lead normal, healthy lives. If the cancer has progressed beyond the initial polyp stage, treatment options can include bowel resection surgery, chemotherapy and radiation

Final thoughts

“Regular” screening may look different depending on an individual’s vulnerability to developing this disease, but screening for colorectal cancer remains the most successful method of prevention. Take charge of your colorectal health by scheduling a colonoscopy with the Parkview Colon Screening Clinic. Consult with a primary care physician for a referral or call us at 260-266-9085 or 877-870-0301 and speak directly with a colon screening specialist who can provide you with easy-to-understand information on the procedure.


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