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Screening for early detection of colorectal cancer

Last Modified: 6/01/2020

Paul Conarty, MD, PPG – Colon & Rectal Surgery, shares the bottom line when it comes to preventing and detecting the often treatable disease.

I cannot stress enough the importance of screening for colorectal cancer.  Screening describes a test used to identify (in the case of colorectal cancer) pre-cancerous lesions in individuals at increased risk for colorectal cancer (CRC). These lesions can often be removed before they develop into cancer.

Current guidelines recommend CRC screening starting at age 50 for average-risk individuals. Those with a personal or family history of CRC or related cancers should be screened earlier.

While there is not (yet) consensus on screening those under the age of 50 at average risk, any symptoms such as bleeding or a significant change in bowel habits should be investigated at any age. The last several decades have demonstrated an increasing number of people younger than 50 developing CRC. Conversely, in the 50 and older age group, screening seems to be making a difference - as we are seeing a decreased incidence of CRC in that group.

So, why doesn't everyone get screened?
The American College of Surgeons has set a goal of having 80 percent of the population screened for CRC by the end of 2018.

The most common barriers we see are:

  • Embarrassment

  • Fear of what might be found

  • Expense

  • Time away from work

  • Fear of complications

  • Discomfort from the procedure

Management of risk factors is another important strategy to decrease the chances of CRC. While some factors, such as a family history of colon cancer, can't be changed, others are well within our control.

Controllable risk factors include:

  • A diet low in fiber and high in processed meats

  • Smoking

  • Obesity

  • Excessive alcohol consumption

These are all thought to increase the chances of developing CRC.

While colon cancer is preventable, it is curable only if found early (typically before it causes any symptoms). It's sad to find people with advanced, incurable colon cancers that might have been prevented or at least caught much earlier had they been encouraged to undergo appropriate screening.

We hope to continue to improve our success rates in eliminating colon cancer through continued screening efforts. 

If you are showing any symptoms or simply wish to explore the possibility of screening, we encourage you to discuss screening options with your primary care physician.


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