March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Written by  Facing Cancer Together
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March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and we'd like to encourage you to become proactive about your health and learn more about ways to detect and prevent colorectal cancer.  Your family history plays a large role in your risk for the disease, as your risk increases if a family member had colon cancer.  So, this month, take a positive step towards being healthy, educate yourself, start talking to your family, and share what you've learned.

Excerpt from the Expert Journal blog titled, "The progress we've made: Fighting the 3 most common cancers"
by Dr. Wendy Chen, Lancaster General Health

dr. chen oncologist

Cancer is undoubtedly the one word you never want to hear from your doctor, but the truth is that more of us are surviving the disease than ever before. Thanks to better detection methods, earlier diagnoses, and huge advances in treatment, survival rates are now 68 percent, an impressive improvement from a 50 percent survival rate 36 years ago.

In my own oncology practice experience, I am witnessing the growth of available cancer drugs each day to treat patients and, in the era of targeted therapy, provide good quality of life for patients while on treatment.

Let's take a look at the progress we've made in saving the lives of people diagnosed with colon cancer.

Colon cancer

The news is also good regarding colon cancer, where survival has jumped from 48 percent in 1975 to 65 percent.

The numbers could be much better if more people were screened as recommended, including a colonoscopy every 10 years for those 50 or older. Last year, the largest study to look at colonoscopy showed that for every one percent increase in colonoscopy use, the risk of death from colon cancer dropped three percent.

On the treatment side, we've marked progress in surgery, chemotherapy, and targeted therapies:

  • Less invasive laparoscopic surgery is a safe alternative to conventional surgery for operable colon cancers.
  • Research into drug combinations began in the 1980s, leading to improved survival over any one drug used alone for patients with advanced cancer.
  • The targeted therapies known as cetuximab and panitumumab can extend survival or slow tumor growth, respectively, for some patients with advanced colorectal cancer. However, patients with a specific mutation do not benefit from these drugs.

Looking to the future, the National Cancer Institute plans to focus research on key genetic changes associated with how colon tumors begin, and progress and technology that will allow cancerous or precancerous cells to be found in the colon and killed before any growth is visible.

Screening and Prevention:

colon-cancer-preventionCancers of the colon and the rectum are the third most common cancer in US men and women.  The American Cancer Society estimates that 143,460 people will be diagnosed in 2012.  And, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States- an estimated 51,690 will die from the disease.

But, there’s good news.

The rates of this disease have been decreasing steadily over the past 20 years due to cancer screenings that help to detect cancer early.  Caching it in an early stage increases the success of treatment.  

Lancaster General Health gastroenterologist Dr. Daniel Connell talks about the importance of getting colon cancer screenings starting at the age of 50.  And, for those who have faced colon cancer in their family, like Shirley Wissler, he says the screening should start at age 40.   Scroll down to watch a video about the importance of early detection.

Regular colorectal cancer screening, such as getting a colonoscopy, is also one of the most powerful weapons for preventing colorectal cancer in people who have no symptoms of the disease.  Why? Because during the cancer screening, doctors are able to remove small non-cancerous ployps from the colon before they have a chance to become cancerous,   

Yet, only 4 out of every 10 adults will get screened for colon cancer.   Dr. Brooks, the director of prostate and colorectal cancers for the American Cancer Society shares a list of common colon cancer screening "Myths & Excuses."

colon-polypOver 50 and haven't been to the doctor for your screening this year?  What's your excuse?

Related stories, information and resources about colon cancer:

Check out the "Screen My Colon" animation and share it with your family and friends as a reminder to get screened!

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