In the sprig of 2018, the American cancer Society changed its recommendations about colorectal cancer screening in response to more fatal cases in people under 50. They now recommend that average-risk Americans begin — and keep up — screenings for colon and rectal cancer starting at age 45.
Colorectal cancer, the third-most common type of cancer in the United States, still manifests mostly in Americans older than 55. The Center for Disease Control estimates that if all adults aged 50 or older had regular screening tests for colon cancer, as many as 60% of the deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented.
Dr. Joshua Wolf, a surgeon at the LifeBridge Health Division of Colon and Rectal Surgery, will visit Carroll Hospital on Nov. 15 to give a free talk on colorectal cancer awareness.
“The unique thing about [colorectal cancer] is it’s really a beatable cancer with the current screening guidelines. When we catch polyps in the colon at an early stage and remove them, those are cancers that do not happen,” he said.
But the best and most accurate for screening, a colonoscopy, often comes up against stigma and fear in the general public.
“I think it’s also important to demystify what is involved in screening,” Wolf said.
When a patient shows up for a procedure, it usually begins with a talk about preparation. The procedure itself takes about 30 to 45 minutes and the patient is asleep. It’s a same-day procedure and the patient goes home, Wolf said.
For those unwilling to undergo a colonoscopy, there are other screening procedures including stool testing, tests that don’t require a full bowel prep, or even some “virtual colonoscopy options."
But Wolf warns, “None of these are equivalent to actual colonoscopy in terms of the quality of the screening. But they’re options.”
According to the Maryland Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 74% of Carroll County residents over age 55 have had a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy exam. This is similar to the statewide average of 73.8%. This data was published on the website for The Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County.
For some people with genetic factors or bowel-related conditions the risk of colorectal cancer could be higher. These folks should talk to their doctor to decide on an appropriate screening schedule, Wolf said.
People with a first-degree relative who had colon cancer at a young age or two first-degree relatives who had colon cancer at any age, individuals who have previously had cancer polyps removed, and those with a history of inflammatory bowel disease or abdominal radiation should speak to a doctor about a screening schedule.
In general, the symptoms of colorectal cancer include changes in the size, caliber, or frequency of stool, blood in stool, abdominal cramping and unexpected loss of weight, Wolf said.
“Any of these types of symptoms need to be reported to a doctor and investigated immediately,” Wolf said.
In addition to the American Cancer Society, which has information dedicated specifically to colorectal cancer, the Colon Cancer Coalition and the Colorectal Cancer Alliance are organizations working to raise awareness about the disease.