Best Defense Against Colorectal Cancer is Optimal Health

Best Defense Against Colorectal Cancer is Optimal Health

Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has dominated the headlines, and for good reason — it has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives. Unfortunately, this single illness has drawn attention away from many other serious health issues, among them being colorectal (colon) cancer.

And, since March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, we thought we’d pass on some information about the current status of the battle to curtail this disease. As might be expected, colon cancer diagnoses and treatments declined significantly over the past year. The number of colonoscopies alone dropped by 90 percent. At the same time, the number of people developing colon cancer before the age of 50 continues to rise, following a trend that started in the early 1990s.

As the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we need to resist the tendency to neglect other aspects of our health. In this post, we shift focus to gut health — specifically what colorectal cancer is, why screenings are important, and who should be screened and when.

What Colorectal Cancer Is

Colorectal cancer (commonly called colon cancer) is the abnormal and uncontrolled growth and spread of cells in the body’s large intestine (colon) and rectum, as shown below. Over time, polyps (small clumps of cells) commonly form on the inside lining of the colon. Most polyps are harmless, but some can become cancerous. Colorectal cancer is often fatal when discovered too late.

Common Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

Symptoms of colorectal cancer include the following:

  • A persistent change in bowel movements, such as prolonged constipation, diarrhea, or a change in the consistency of your stools
  • Rectal bleeding or dark-colored stools (black, tarry stools may indicate internal bleeding)
  • Narrow stools
  • Abdominal cramping, gas, or pain
  • A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Night sweats
  • Sudden, unexplained weight loss
  • Iron deficiency

Why Screenings Are Important

Colorectal cancer is thought of as a silent killer because it can become life-threatening before you notice any symptoms or because the symptoms are assumed to be caused by much less serious conditions. The good news is that the earlier a problem is identified, the easier and more effective the treatments, which is why we recommend routine colorectal cancer screenings to our patients.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force — that’s an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in disease prevention and evidence-based medicine — recommends that adults aged 50 to 75 be screened regularly for colorectal cancer. If you’re older than 75 years, discuss the potential benefits and drawbacks of screening with your doctor. If you’re younger than 50, you may still benefit from a colorectal cancer screening. Since the early 1990s, young-onset colorectal cancer has been on the rise. While the vast majority (about 90 percent) of cases are attributed to patients 50 and over, about 10 percent are attributable to younger patients — mostly those between 40 and 49 but many under the age of 40.

Types of Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests

Screening tests include the following:

  • Stool tests:
    • The guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) uses a chemical called guaiac to test for blood in a small stool sample. You receive a kit for collecting and returning the stool sample to your doctor or a lab. This is done once a year.
    • The fecal immunochemical test (FIT) uses antibodies to detect blood in a small stool sample. You receive a kit for collecting and returning the stool sample to your doctor or a lab. This is done once a year.
    • The FIT-DNA test combines the FIT with a test that detects altered DNA in the stool. You receive a kit for collecting and returning an entire bowel movement to a lab, which checks it for cancer cells. This is done once every three years.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy: Your doctor inserts a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube into your rectum to check it and the lower third of the colon for polyps or signs of cancer. This is done every five or ten years with a FIT-DNA test every year.
  • Colonoscopy: Your doctor inserts a long, thin, flexible, lighted tube into your rectum to check it and your entire colon for polyps or signs of cancer. During a colonoscopy, your doctor may also remove polyps or cancer cells. This is done every ten years for people who aren’t at an increased risk of colorectal cancer or more frequently for those who are. It may also be used as a follow-up if one of the other screening tests shows something unusual.
  • CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) uses x-rays and computer technology to produce images of the entire colon and display them on a computer screen for your doctor to analyze. This test may be done every five years.

Here at Restoration Healthcare (a Southern California Functional Medicine practice), we offer a screening tool that helps you and our doctors make smarter decisions about your healthcare — data-based decisions that take your personal preferences into account. This screening tool is powered by WiserCare — a Southern California-based company that develops simple tools focused on person-centered healthcare.

In coordination with WiserCare, we send surveys to select patients asking them to return their completed forms prior to their next appointment. In part, this survey enables us to identify patients who should strongly consider a colorectal cancer screening.

Delivered on WiserCare’s HIPAA-compliant web-based platform, the surveys outline your testing and treatment options and communicate your personal preferences to your Restoration Healthcare team.

As part of our rollout of this new tool, someone from our office alert you if a survey is headed your way. Once you complete your survey (which will always be sent in advance of an upcoming appointment), the results will be shared with your Restoration Healthcare doctor and reviewed at your next appointment. At that time, we will inform you whether or not a colorectal cancer screening is advised.

Although we certainly hope that the COVID-19 pandemic abates soon and we can return to our pre-pandemic lives, we encourage you to maintain regular appointments with your healthcare providers and undergo recommended screenings. After all, one of the best defenses against any virus is optimal health.

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Disclaimer: The information in this blog post about colorectal cancer, is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect current medical thinking or practices. No information contained in this post should be construed as medical advice from the medical staff at Restoration Healthcare, Inc., nor is this post intended to be a substitute for medical counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate medical advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a licensed medical professional in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.