March has been named as the month to raise awareness of colorectal cancer, because it is a highly preventable disease and yet is a leading cause of death in the U.S.
Colorectal cancer is a cancer (a disease where cells grow out of control) that starts in the colon or rectum. It is sometimes called colon cancer, for short.
According to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, more than 149,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with the disease this year. Many colorectal cancers can be prevented or caught early, when they are more easily treated, according to the American Cancer Society. There are more than 1.4 million survivors of the disease.
At Swope Health, we are supporting efforts to raise awareness. If you are a Swope Health patient, you may receive a text message about colon cancer screening. If you come in for a visit, your provider may encourage you to have a screening.
Behind the scenes, Swope Health is also working on initiatives to assure that patients at higher risk for colon cancer are invited to be screened for the disease. The American Cancer Society notes the African-American community is disproportionately at risk for colorectal cancer – they are about 20 percent more likely to get colorectal cancer than most other groups.
“This is a screening that saves lives,” said Dr. Naiomi Jamal, Chief Quality Officer for Swope Health. “With screening, often we can find abnormalities early, when treatment works best. With our at-home kits, the screening is both convenient and lifesaving.”
Who should be screened?
Screenings generally begin at age 50, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a panel of national health experts. People who are at higher risk are those with a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps; or personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, polyps or colorectal cancer. Also, people with a history of radiation treatment to the abdomen or pelvic area should be screened.
Other conditions – like being overweight, physically inactive, or diabetic – may increase risk factors.
What does a screening entail?
There are two basic types of screening. At Swope Health, an initial screening is typically a stool-based test kit. You do this at home, at your convenience. You provide a sample of your feces in a kit, which looks for hidden blood in the sample.
A more comprehensive and complex screening is a colonoscopy. In this test, a provider uses a small flexible tube and camera to examine the colon and rectum. This examination requires advance preparation to clear out the intestines and typically requires sedation. (Learn more about other forms of screening at American Cancer Society or the Centers for Disease Control and Protection.)