March is designated as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in the United States. How are you celebrating?
Colorectal cancer screening is an important piece of preventative health care, but many Americans are hesitant to discuss it, let alone schedule a colonoscopy. Although different organizations may have slightly different recommendations depending on risk factors, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends regular screening for colon cancer for everyone between the ages of 50 and 75. So what does “screening” mean, and why does it matter?
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer for both men and women in the United States, and it is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths for men and women combined, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). So we know that the risks are significant, and the numbers are high. We also know that colon cancer is very treatable when it’s caught early. The American Cancer Society places the 5-year survival rate at 90% when colorectal cancers are found at Stage II or earlier. This means that 90% of people whose cancer was discovered before it spread to other parts of the body lived at least another 5 years, and many lived longer than that. This makes regular screening a key factor in one’s ability to survive a diagnosis of colorectal cancer.
But if we know all of that, why does the ACS put the rate of early diagnosis in the United States at only 40%? This is partly due to low numbers of people getting their regular screenings. And we know that no one is excited to go in and get their colonoscopy done. But did you know that there are other approved, evidence-based options for screening? NorthLakes Community Clinic offers two noninvasive options for initial screening, the fecal occult blood (FOB) test and the Cologuard test. Both tests only require a stool sample to test for hidden blood, and the Cologuard test also screens for DNA changes that indicate a likelihood of cancer. These are both excellent initial screening tools for people with low overall risk.
A colonoscopy is still the best screening tool we have and should be used for anyone with a close family history of colorectal cancer or a medical diagnosis that increases their cancer risk, like ulcerative colitis. A positive FOB or Cologuard would also be followed up with a colonoscopy. But as we increase the number of tools that we can use to try and catch these cancers in the early stages, when they’re easily treatable, we want our community to put them to use. Talk to your provider about your need for screening for colorectal cancer, and the options available to you. If you don’t have a primary care provider or if finances are a concern, NorthLakes Community Clinic can work with you to make sure you receive the care you need to stay healthy! If you are interested in establishing medical care with NorthLakes Community Clinic, please call us at 888-834-4551. We currently offer primary medical care in our Ashland, Iron River, Hayward, Minong, Lakewood and White Lake locations.