By Anya Dyurgerova
In February 2000, President Clinton officially dedicated March as National Colon Cancer Awareness Month and March 3rd is national dress in blue day to raise awareness for Colorectal Cancer. But why is colorectal cancer so important?
Worldwide, colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most common cancer in males (746,000 cases, 10.0% of total cancers) and the second in females (614,000 cases, 9.2% of total cancers) . It is the third most common cause of cancer death in the United States with 134,490 new cases and 49,190 deaths each year. However with early screening cancer can be found before it is advanced, greatly improving long term prognosis.
Age is the biggest risk factor for sporadic (non-hereditary) CRC, and the risk increases in those greater than 50 years old. Other risk factors for sporadic CRC include inflammatory bowel disease, history of abdominal radiation, obesity, diabetes, tobacco use, excess alcohol use and a poor diet. Out of the CRCs diagnosed in those under 50, 35% are caused by hereditary syndromes such as Lynch Syndrome and Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP).
Researchers have also found that some factors decrease the risk of CRC. These include physical activity, use of aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy and a diet rich in vegetables. Multiple other dietary factors have been studied in relation to the risk of CRC, however most of the data is inconclusive.
The most common presenting symptoms of CRC are rectal bleeding, change in bowel habits, abdominal pain, distention, fatigue and iron-deficiency anemia. If you experience any of these symptoms you must let your physician know so that the proper testing can be done.
Colorectal cancers typically develop from polyps and removal of these polyps can prevent progression to cancer. Screening for polyps is done with a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy. While the recommendation for most of the population is to begin screening at fifty years old, those with a strong family history of colon cancer should begin earlier. If you have a family history of colon cancer you should speak with your physician regarding when it would be the best time to begin screening for CRC.
One in five patients presents with metastatic disease at diagnosis of CRC, and this stage of CRC has a much worse prognosis. Therefore, it is critical to diagnose CRC early before it spreads to other organs and to immediately begin treatment. The survival rate from CRC is one of the highest in the United States and this is due to nationwide screening, early detection and effective treatment. The five year survival for patients treated for stage I CRC is greater than 90%.
Below are links for more information and for ways you can get involved:
National Cancer Institute
Colorectal Cancer Screening Guidelines
Dress in Blue Day
Screen for Life: National Colorectal Cancer Action Campaign
Anya Dyurgerova is a fourth-year medical student at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, CA. Anya will be starting residency in Otolaryngology in Michigan this July. Prior to medical school she received her bachelor’s degree at University of Colorado, Boulder in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and in Spanish. Outside of medical school, Anya enjoys spending time outdoors snowboarding, hiking and camping and doing yoga.
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