The First Step To Preventing Colorectal Cancer

The First Step To Preventing Colorectal Cancer

An estimated 90 million Americans are at​ risk of​ developing colorectal cancer, the​ second-leading cancer killer in​ the​ United States. About 145,000 Americans will be diagnosed with the​ disease this year-and 57,000 will die from it. in​ many cases, the​ cancerous tumors are discovered too late, mainly because screening was not taken seriously.

The fact is, screening can prevent many cases of​ this disease because most colorectal cancers evolve from benign adenomatous polyps that develop during a​ 10-year silent window. a​ single colonoscopy exam can remove polyps when they are still harmless and​ decrease the​ life-long risk of​ colon cancer death by 31 percent. and​ that's just one exam. Repeating the​ exam every 10 years does much more.

Relatively few people, however, are properly screened for​ colon cancer. While roughly 80 percent of​ U.S. women are screened for​ breast cancer with mammography, fewer than 20 percent of​ Americans over age 50 have even had the​ least invasive colon cancer screening test-a fecal occult blood test-in the​ past five years.

According to​ experts, the​ barriers to​ proper screening for​ colon cancer involve misperceptions, money, manpower and​ mind-set. the​ misperceptions include the​ thought that this disease only strikes older men. the​ reality is, if​ you are male or​ female, age 50 or​ older, you're well within striking distance. Another misperception: screening for​ colon cancer is​ terribly painful and​ uncomfortable. the​ reality: the​ bowel prep is​ somewhat annoying but quite manageable at​ home, and​ colonoscopy with light sedation is​ painless.

The expense of​ the​ tests can be a​ roadblock, but insurance companies are coming on board, as​ colonoscopy screenings for​ this cancer have been proven to​ be as​ cost effective as​ mammography for​ breast cancer. Manpower issues exist since special training is​ required to​ do colonoscopies, and​ a​ specially designed setting, equipment and​ sedation are all required, but ease and​ efficiency have greatly increased in​ the​ past decade.

The first step? Focus on baseline colonoscopy for​ everyone over age 50. if​ a​ polyp or​ tumor is​ detected, it​ can be addressed early and​ directly. if​ your exam is​ clean, you're good for​ 10 years. All in​ all, it​ seems a​ relatively small price to​ pay. How many other bad cancers allow a​ 10-year window for​ detection? Fewer, still, have relatively painless detection technology and​ skilled clinicians already in​ place to​ ensure success.

Mike Magee, M.D., is​ a​ former Senior Fellow in​ the​ Humanities to​ the​ World Medical Association, director of​ the​ Pfizer Medical Humanities Initiative and​ host of​ the​ weekly Web cast "Health Politics with Dr. Mike Magee."

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