March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and the good news is colon cancer cases have been steadily decreasing in the past two decades.
The bad news? It remains the third most common cancer in both men and women. And here's the kicker: Colon cancer is a preventable disease with a 90 percent survival rate when diagnosed early. In other words, it is treatable and beatable, but you have to get screened.
In 2013, an estimated 102,480 Americans will be diagnosed with colon cancer and 40,340 more will be diagnosed with rectal cancer. Ninety percent of all cases are diagnosed in individuals age 50 or older.
"If we diagnose it early enough, it is curable," says Alicia Gardner, director of Health Initiatives for the American Cancer Society in Greater Michigan. "Screening can detect and allow for the removal of colorectal polyps that might have become cancerous, as well as detect cancer at an early stage when treatment may be less extensive and more successful."
So why aren't more people getting screened? According to American Cancer Society research, the top seven reasons people say they aren't getting screened for colon cancer include:
- They don't think it will happen to them.
- They don't understand the benefits of getting screened.
- They are afraid or embarrassed to get screened.
- They don't have time to go in for a screening.
- They believe they can't afford a screening.
- They don't know where to go to get screened.
- And the No. 1 reason people say they don't get screened for colon cancer is that their doctor never talked to them about it.
"Bottom line, getting screened for colon cancer can save your life," Gardner says. "Colon cancer is one of only two cancers that can be prevented through screening. It almost always starts with a small growth that can be removed before becoming cancerous. If you are 50 or older and of average risk, talk to your doctor about getting screened even if you have no symptoms."
Gardner says modifiable factors associated with increased risk include obesity, physical inactivity, a diet high in red or processed meat, alcohol consumption, long-term smoking, and possibly very low intake of fruits and vegetables. Hereditary and medical factors that increase risk include a personal or family history of colorectal cancer and/or polyps, a personal history of chronic inflammatory bowel disease, and certain inherited genetic conditions.
The American Cancer Society would like to remind men and women at average risk for colon cancer to begin screenings at age 50, and before age 50 if there is a strong family history of the disease.
For more information, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345, anytime, day or night, or visit cancer.org.