by TERESA SCHIFFER
Sponsored by Central Florida Health Care
March is recognized as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and while it may not be a topic that many people find appealing, it’s essential to be aware of the importance of early detection in treating this cancer.
Geoffry Hall, RN, APRN, FNP-C, is one of the many dedicated healthcare providers at Central Florida Health Care.
“The guidelines have recently changed,” says Hall. “Screening for colorectal cancer is now recommended for anyone above the age of 45. So at 45, you essentially have three options. The gold standard is always going to be a colonoscopy, where they go with a camera and identify any lesions, polyps, or things like that.”
Many people recoil at the mere thought of getting a colonoscopy. Fortunately, there are other methods for detecting the presence of colorectal cancer that are less invasive. Hall explained some of those options.
“The second option is Cologuard, a stool test kit that is quite good. It’s looking for specific biomarkers to determine whether you may or may not have colon cancer. And then last, but not least, is one called FIT Test, which is another stool sample test. It is essentially looking for blood in the stool. If that test comes back positive, at that point I’d talk to the patient about what’s going on and recommend a colonoscopy anyway. That’s true with Cologuard as well. If that comes back positive, then the next step is going to be a colonoscopy, no matter what.”
Hall prefers his patients opt for the colonoscopy right off the bat because it is more accurate than the other two tests. The colonoscopy needs to be done about every 10 years if no issues are found, whereas Cologuard is recommended every three years, and the FIT Test is an annual test.
Colorectal cancer, also called colon cancer, develops mainly in older people, although there has been a recent trend of it occurring in younger people, hence the lowering of the recommended age to begin screening from 50 years old to 45. Individuals who suffer from certain digestive system issues are at greater risk for developing this cancer as well.
Patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease, or who have had a sibling, parent, or grandparent affected by colorectal cancer are urged to begin their screenings promptly at the age of 45 due to increased risk of developing the disease.
“If we found a suspicious lesion in somebody’s colon today, we’d have to get a biopsy to make sure it was actually cancer, and if it came back as cancer, there is some time to go through treatment, time to talk to your provider and talk to the surgeon, things like that. It certainly is not a death sentence,” Hall says.
When caught and treated in its early, localized stage, colorectal cancer has a 91 percent survival rate. If it has spread to surrounding tissues, organs, or regional lymph nodes, the survival rate is 72 percent. Once the cancer has spread to more distant parts of the body, the five-year survival rate drops to 14 percent, highlighting the importance of early detection.
Depending on the severity, treatment of colorectal cancer generally involves a combination of radiation and chemotherapy. If detected at an early stage, surgery may be sufficient to remove the cancer entirely.
Hall suggests that to reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer, patients should stick to a healthy, well-balanced diet, one consisting of plenty of fiber, fruits and vegetables, and lean meats, and of course to get screened on time.
“It’s important to emphasize that this is a screening process, and it’s always really important to get this process done as soon as possible,” Hall urges. “There is a significant reduction of risk and mortality if this screening is done on time.”