March is designated National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month to raise awareness about this disease and the need for early detection and diagnosis. Of cancers that affect both men and women, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States and it is the third most common cancer in men and in women. The American Cancer Society estimates the number of colorectal cancer cases in the U.S. for 2019 is 101,420 new cases of colon cancer and 44,180 new cases of rectal cancer.
Here’s the good news: colorectal cancer is one of the few cancers you can do something about. For example, nearly 75 percent of colorectal cancer cases could be prevented through proper screening to prevent the disease from maturing. Screening can find colorectal cancer early when it’s small and might be easier to treat.
A screening test looks for possible disease when there are no symptoms; diagnostic tests are used to find the cause of the symptoms.
Cancer.Net reports that if the cancer is diagnosed at a localized stage, the survival rate is 91 percent; if cancer has spread to surrounding tissues or organs and/or the regional lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate is 72 percent; if cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, the five-year survival rate is 14 percent.
Colorectal cancer develops slowly within the colon or rectum and begins as a non-cancerous polyp, which can form into a cancerous polyp. Polyps are small, usually less than half an inch wide, abnormal tissue growths that look like small bumps or mushrooms. From the time abnormal cells start to grow into polyps, it takes about 10 to 15 years to develop into colorectal cancer.
Some possible signs or symptoms of colorectal cancer include:
A change in bowel habits – diarrhea, constipation, a change in the consistency of your stool or finding your stools are narrower than usual
Persistent abdominal discomfort – cramps, gas or pain and/or feeling full, bloated or that your bowel does not empty completely
Rectal bleeding – blood (either bright red or very dark) in your stool
If you’re having symptoms, talk to your doctor immediately.
Colorectal cancer screening is recommended for men and women over the age of 50 and those who have a family history of the disease and/or risk factors, including being overweight, physical inactivity, diets high in meat and sugar and low in fruits and vegetables, smoking and alcohol use.
Many people avoid being screened because they think the only screening option is a colonoscopy. But, these days, a colonoscopy isn’t your only option. There are several different screening options available. No matter which one you choose, the important thing is to be tested. Recommended tests fall into two categories – stool-based and visual.
Stool-based tests are non-invasive colorectal cancer screening options that require a stool sample to be sent to a lab for testing. No special diet or bowel preparation (no laxatives or enemas) are required for a stool-based test. Stool-based tests are recommended for people who have a low or average risk for colorectal cancer – no personal history of pre-cancerous polyps, no colorectal cancer that runs in the family or no other risk factors.
There are two kinds of stool-based tests: Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) looks for tiny amounts of blood in the stool that could be a sign of cancer or large polyps. Stool DNA testing looks for certain DNA or gene changes that often get into the stool and are sometimes found in pre-cancerous growths and cancer cells. It also checks for blood in the stool.
Visual or structural tests look inside the colon and rectum for abnormal areas that might be cancer or polyps. If a stool-based test had an abnormal result, a visual test can help find out why. Three types of visual tests include colonoscopy, CT colonography (also called virtual colonoscopy) and flexible sigmoidoscopy.
Free Take-Home Screening Kit Available
NACA, Inc. (Native Americans for Community Action) is offering the take-home test to its new and current patients. NACA is offering these free tests for its patients to promote the need for early detection and diagnosis of this treatable disease. The test kits are very easy to use at home and are then mailed to the NACA clinic for processing.
Not a NACA patient? Contact Native Americans for Community Action today to become an established patient. Come in and learn more about colorectal cancer screenings and how they can save your life! FBN
By Jeff Axtell, MPH
Jeff Axtell, MPH, BS, is the CEO of NACA, Inc., and has served in leadership roles in public and private healthcare organizations since 1989.
NACA is a non-profit organization that offers primary care and behavioral health services, health promotion and a low-cost fitness center at the same location. NACA’s services and programs are available to people of all cultures, not just Native Americans. To learn more about all the services and programs NACA offers, visit NACAInc.org or call 928-773-1245. Stay up-to-date on new services, events and health topics by following NACA on Facebook.