Did you know that colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer AND it’s the second leading cause of death in both men and women combined inside the US? Over 50,000 people die a year from this preventable disease. Incidence rates have been decreasing for most of the past two decades, which has been attributed to an uptake of colorectal cancer screening among adults 50 years and older. From 2007 to 2011, incidence rates declined by 4.3% per year among adults 50 years of age and older, but increased by 1.8% per year among adults younger than age 50. So, with regular screening, colon cancer can be found early, when treatment is most effective. In many cases, screening can prevent colon cancer by finding and removing polyps before they become cancer. And if cancer is present, earlier detection means a better chance at becoming a survivor. As an ICU nurse, I see the effects of colon cancer after diagnosis within the late stages of the disease and as an athlete, I believe that a healthy lifestyle is more than an ounce of prevention. I am absolutely an advocate of preventative medicine.
The American Cancer Society estimates 130,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2014 and around 50,000 will die from it in the United States. Colon cancer does exist in my family history and I know I don’t want myself or other members of my family to become one of these statistics. So, let’s take a look at what colon cancer is and how we can prevent it!
What is it? Colorectal cancer, or colon cancer, occurs in the colon or rectum. The colon is your large intestine or large bowel and the rectum is the passageway that connects the colon to the anus. Most colon cancers develop first as colorectal polyps, which are abnormal growths inside the colon or rectum that may later become cancerous. Colorectal or colon cancer first develops with few, if any, symptoms. However, if symptoms are present, they may include:
*A change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool
*Feeling that your bowel does not empty completely, rectal bleeding, or finding blood (either bright red or very dark) in your stool
*Finding your stools are narrower than usual
*Losing weight with no known reason
*Weakness or fatigue
*Having nausea or vomiting
These symptoms can also be associated with many other health conditions. Only your doctor can determine why you’re having these symptoms. Usually, early cancer does not cause pain. It is important not to wait to feel pain before seeing a doctor.
Some facts you need to know to increase your awareness of where your risk level may be:
-In 2011, 90% of new cases and 95% of deaths from colon cancer occur in people 50 or older.
-Colon cancer does not discriminate and can happen to men and women at any age. While rates for colon cancer in adults 50 and older have been declining, incidence rates in adults younger than 50 years has been increasing.
-People with a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or children) who has colon cancer are between two and three times the risk of developing the cancer than those without a family history.
-Jews of Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi Jews) may have a higher rate of colon cancer. Partly because of disproportionate screening, African-American men and women have a higher risk of developing colon cancer and a lower survival rate (about 20% higher incidence rate and 45% higher mortality rate) compared to Caucasians, Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans. The risk of death is also increased for Native Americans and Alaskan Natives.
Unfortunately, the majority of colon cancers are still being diagnosed at late stages.
-40% of colon cancers are found while the cancer is found at a local stage (confined to colon or rectum).
-36% of colon cancers are found after the cancer is diagnosed at a regional stage (spread to surrounding tissue).
-20% of colon cancers are found after the disease has spread to distant organs.
This is why Early detection is so vital — over 90% of all cases of colon cancer can be prevented with recommended screening. Despite its high incidence, colon cancer is one of the most detectable and, if found early enough, most treatable forms of cancer. An increased awareness, appropriate screening and maintaining a healthy diet along with exercise are contributing to increased survival rates and prevention all together. Since the mid-1980s, the colon cancer death rate has been dropping. By finding more polyps and cancer in the earlier (local and regional) stages, it is easiest to treat. Improved treatment options have also contributed to a rise in survival rates.
-The five-year survival rate for colon cancer found at the local stage is 90% (confined to colon or rectum).
-The five-year survival rate for colon cancer found at the regional stage is 70% (spread to surrounding tissue).
-The five-year survival rate for colon cancer found at the distant stage is 13%.
-There are currently more than one million colon cancer survivors alive in the US.
So what can you do to decrease your risk?
-Find out the facts.
-Spread the word! Wear your Blue for awareness and let people know prevention is the key.
-Get your screening colonoscopy!! If you are age 50 or older, you need one. If you have an immediate family history, you may need to start earlier.
-Knock out those preventable risk factors:
-Increase the intensity and amount of physical activity (Ride your bike!)
-Limit intake of red and processed meats
-Get recommended levels of calcium and vitamin D
-Avoid obesity and weight gain around the midsection
-Avoid excess alcohol
(The statistics above were compiled from the American Cancer Society’s 2012 Cancer Facts & Figures and Colorectal Cancer Facts & Figures 2011-2013.)