Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death among American men and women combined,
but it doesn’t have to be.
Colorectal Cancer Risk
Colon cancer is curable in 90% of cases when detected early, and with appropriate screening, often entirely preventable (screening can find precancerous polyps so that they can be removed before turning into cancer).
Those at average risk should start screening at age 50. Many experts recommend African-Americans start at 45.
Click below for a community health center that provides screening, regardless of insurance coverage.Get Screened
Colorectal Cancer Risk: Learn More
It’s estimated in 2017 in the US there will be over 135,000 cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed, and over 50,000 deaths from colorectal cancer.
Women and men at average risk for colon cancer need to begin screening at age 50. People over age 75 who have been screened regularly in the past should talk with their doctor to determine whether continued screening is worthwhile for them.
For unclear reasons, rates of colorectal cancer in people under 50 are going up, so anyone—regardless of age—who has any of the symptoms listed below needs to have a full evaluation.
African-Americans have the highest incidence rates for colorectal cancer and are more likely to die of colorectal cancer than most other ethnic group. (Colorectal cancer death rates are 52% higher in black men and 41% higher in black women compared to white men and women.) The lifetime risk of dying from colorectal cancer is slightly higher for African American men than women. Some of the gastroenterology professional organizations recommend that African-Americans begin screening at age 45.
Recent studies have also found very high colorectal cancer rates in Alaska Natives and some American Indians, and some organizations now recommend earlier screening for these groups as well.
People with certain risk factors—like a family history of colorectal polyps or cancer—need to talk to their doctors about starting screening at an earlier age.
Polyps and early colon cancers often cause NO symptoms, so it is important to get tested even if you don’t have symptoms and feel fine. If symptoms are present, they may include: rectal bleeding, change in bowel habits that lasts more than a few days, blood in the stool, abdominal pain, or unexplained fatigue or weight loss. If you have any of these symptoms, please see your doctor promptly for evaluation.
Colorectal Screening Guidelines
The US Preventive Services Task Force recommendations for those at average risk of colon cancer:
Tests that look directly at the lining of the colon
- Colonoscopy every 10 years; OR
- CT Colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years; OR
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years (or every 10 years with a FIT defined below every year)
- Fecal occult blood test (gFOBT), uses chemical guaiac (GWHY-ac) to detect blood in the stool, every year; OR
- Fecal immunochemical test (FIT), uses antibodies to detect blood in the stool, every year; OR
- FIT-DNA test (also referred to as the stool DNA test); every 1 or 3 years (The test checks for DNA changes that could be a sign of cancer or pre-cancerous polyps. It also checks for blood in the stool.)
Watch and Learn
While we’ve made great progress in increasing the screening rates and decreasing the death rate for colorectal cancer, we still have a long way to go.
20 million people
About one-third of Americans between the ages of 50 and 75 that’s over 20 million people have not been screened according to national guidelines. (CDC, 2013)
In 2016, there were estimated 18,400 deaths among adults ages 50-74 who were not up to date on the recommended screenings.
The National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable’s “80 by 2018” campaign, spearheaded by the American Cancer Society with many other groups involved, is working to achieve colorectal cancer screening of 80% of adults in the US over age 50 by the year 2018.
Achieving an 80% nationwide screening rate will prevent 277,000 cases of colorectal cancer and 203,000 deaths from the disease over the next 13 years.
Other Colorectal Cancer
- More men than women are diagnosed and die from colorectal cancer. (the estimates for 2017 indicate that 11% more men than women will be diagnosed, and 15% more will die in the US.)
- A small percentage of colorectal cancers occur as the result of hereditary cancer syndromes, such as FAP or HNPCC (Lynch syndrome). These people have a very high risk of developing cancer and at a much younger age, and need special monitoring and treatment.
- There are also certain lifestyle risk factors, such as smoking, obesity, being sedentary, excessive alcohol consumption, and a diet high in red and processed meats.
Colorectal Cancer — Age and Family History
- Colorectal cancer diagnoses are declining among adults age 50 and older, but are increasing in those younger than age 50.
- As much as 80% of people with colorectal cancer have no family history of the disease. So everyone still needs to be screened starting at 50 even with no family history.
- People of all ages should talk to their doctor about colon cancer to rule out a family history of the disease or to discuss any symptoms, such as blood in the stool or a persistent change in bowel habits.
Colorectal Cancer Trends — Declining Incidence and Death Rates
- We’ve seen the incidence of colorectal cancer drop by @ 30% from 2001 to 2010 in those age 50 and older, BUT colorectal cancer increased 2% per year in adults under age 50, in roughly the same timeframe
- From 2005 to 2014, the rate of colorectal cancer death declined by 2.5% per year.
General Health Guidance
No matter what age you are, it’s important to maintain a healthy diet (low in red and processed meats), an active lifestyle and a healthy body weight. And of course, don’t smoke, and if you consume alcohol, do so in moderation.
But no matter how healthy your lifestyle it’s still essential to talk with your doctor, choose a test and get screened!