Colorectal Cancer: Prevention and Treatment
Published Online: Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Regular, timely screenings for colorectal cancer are essential for catching the disease early, when it can be treated with high rates of success.
In the United States, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in both men and women. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 50,000 Americans will die from colorectal cancer in 2013. However, 80% of these lives could be saved through preventive screenings.
Colorectal cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the colon or rectum. Clumps of abnormal tissue, called polyps, can grow and develop into cancer over several years. Because development from benign polyp to cancerous tumor proceeds slowly, most people experience no symptoms during the first stages of the disease and, therefore, neglect regular screenings. However, treatment is most effective—and critical— during these early stages, before the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
When colorectal cancer is detected in the local stage, when the cancer is only present in the colon or rectum, patients have a 5-year survival rate of 90%. When it is diagnosed at the regional stage, when the cancer has spread to surrounding tissue, the 5-year survival rate drops to 70%. And, when the cancer is diagnosed after it has spread to different parts of the body, only 12% of patients will survive for 5 years.
Screening for and early detection of colorectal cancer are vital.
Screenings can detect polyps before they become cancerous, saving many lives. Once found, polyps can be removed or destroyed during a colonoscopy, preventing the development of cancer. If cancerous polyps are found, they can also be removed, helping to prevent any further spread of the cancer. Further treatment may include chemotherapy or radiation therapy and varies depending on the stage and location of the cancer.
Regular screenings usually begin at age 50. However, those with additional risk factors, such as family history, should talk to their doctors about getting screened earlier or more frequently.
Prevention and treatment of colorectal cancer can be achieved through timely screenings. Waiting until symptoms arise to get screened for colorectal cancer significantly lowers one’s chance of survival. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services encourages all health care professionals to remind Medicare beneficiaries about the importance of screenings. Screenings are covered for all beneficiaries age 50 and older and for those who are considered high risk, regardless of age.