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Colorectal cancer continues to be the second leading cancer killer for both men and women combined in the United States, even though it is 90 percent preventable and 90 percent treatable when detected early.
These figures are of great concern to care providers and staff at Los Alamos Medical Center, because we know that fewer than 50 percent of adults age 50 or older have had one of the readily available colorectal cancer screening tests within the recommended time periods.
That is truly unfortunate because when detected at an early, localized stage, colorectal cancers are nearly 100 percent curable; however, only 39 percent of these cancers are diagnosed at this stage, mostly because of low rates of screening.
Enter the month of March, also known as ‘Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month’, and LAMC’s ColoCARE awareness campaign. Our physicians are telling us that we can save more lives, and we’re going to focus on doing just that – by educating the public about colorectal cancer and the screening tests that are available. We’re taking advantage of this special month to make sure everyone in the communities we serve knows when they should be screened.
Most people do not realize that you can actually prevent colon cancer, in many cases, by simply having a colonoscopy.
Colorectal cancer, which includes cancers of the colon and/or rectum, is equally common in both men and women. The American Cancer Society estimated that last year (2008) 148,810 new cases of colorectal cancer were diagnosed and that 49,960 people died from the disease. It is also one of the most easily prevented cancers because it can develop from polyps that can be removed before they become cancerous.
More than 90 percent of people who are diagnosed with colorectal cancer are over the age of 50. Many insurance plans, including Medicare, help pay for colorectal cancer screening.
Polyps and colorectal cancer may not cause symptoms, especially at first. And, like many cancers, the development of colorectal cancer can take many years, which is why screening is such an important tool. Regular screening tests can find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer and screening tests can help discover cancer in its earliest, most curable stages.
Experts are not in total agreement on which screening tests should be used or how often adults without known risk factors should be tested, but there is agreement on one test. Considering all of the available literature and research, conventional colonoscopy remains the clear gold standard for the diagnosis of colorectal cancer.
It allows the physician to examine the entire length of the colon and to remove pre-cancerous polyps during the same procedure. Anyone who is 50 years of age should have a colonoscopy. During this procedure, a physician uses a slender, flexible, lighted instrument called a colonoscope to look at the inside walls of the full length of the colon. If abnormalities are found, they can be removed or biopsied during the same procedure.
Colon cancer is responsible for 10-11 percent of all cancer deaths. One out of every three people who develop colon cancer will die from it, most commonly because it is diagnosed at a late stage. Colonoscopies help to prevent these deaths.
During the month of March, you can take the first step toward prevention of colon cancer in your life and that of your loved ones.
Through our ColoCARE campaign, you can receive a FREE ColoCARE Home Screening Kit with an easy-to-use test and information about the risks, treatment and most importantly the prevention of colorectal cancer.
All of the instructions are included; you just have to follow directions. Call 1-866-512-2380 to request a kit and our staff will assist you in joining this important effort.
Since colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in both men and women, we could prevent great suffering if more people would take advantage of screenings that are available. Watch for your ColoCARE mailer coming soon, or call 1-866-512-2380 to get your kit. It may be one of the most important decisions of, and for, your life.
Mark Karaffa is the director of Business Development at Los Alamos Medical Center.