There are some things that people don't like to talk about. For one reason or another, some topics make people feel uncomfortable - especially the ones that folks may describe as 'icky'.
Thankfully, health organizations across the country and world are forcing the issue and shining light on potentially 'icky' health topics. By bringing topics such as breast cancer, cervical cancer, etc. into the public discussion, it has become much easier and more comfortable to discuss these issues with their friends, families, and doctors.
And here we are in March - National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Get comfortable.
Colorectal refers to both colon and rectal cancers, which have a great amount in common. Mostly slow developing (taking years in many cases), polyps grow in the rectal/colon lining and develop into cancerous tumors.
In terms of prevalence, African-Americans need to be aware, as out of all racial groups in the US, they have the highest colorectal cancer incidence and death rates. It is the third most common cancer found in US men and women, with about a 1 in 20 chance of occurrence. Estimates have around 150,000 new cases per year, with over 50,000 deaths from colorectal cancer each year in the US.
The risk of colorectal cancer increases…
1) as a person gets older
2) have a personal cancer history (especially ovarian, uterine, or breast)
3) family history of cancer
4) if they are obese
5) if they smoke
6) if they have a diet high in red meat and low in fruits and vegetables
When it comes to survival, as with almost anything, early detection is key. When found early, there is almost a 90% chance for cure. Screenings are done with a colonoscopy, which is when a lighted probe is inserted into the rectum and the colon in a search for polyps and any abnormalities. The advantage of having a colonoscopy done is that polyps can be removed immediately.
In terms of when you should get a colonoscopy, the American Cancer Society recommends people of average risk (based on the items above) begin getting screened for colorectal cancers at age 50 and every 10 years after. The higher the risk factors, the sooner one should be screened.
As noted before, African-Americans show a definite higher risk, so they should begin going by 45.
If caught early enough, polyp removal can aid a patient in avoiding cancer completely. So, it's worth the trip to the doctor. And don't be worried or squeamish of the 'icky' topic. It's a part of life, and unfortunately, it's dangerous enough to be life-threatening if things are bad.
Don't let an 'icky' topic keep you from getting the treatment you need to stay healthy.
- Danika Hickman, MD