By Congressman Leonard Lance
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), of all the cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer or cancer of the colon is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.
Tragically, nearly 50,000 people in the United States die of colon cancer each year. But did you know that more than 40 percent of adults – 4 out of 10 — fail to have screening tests that can prevent or detect early colorectal cancer?
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. And as such, advocates across the country, myself included, will use this annual awareness month to help spread the message of screenings.
Experts predict that more than 143,000 new cases and 51,000 deaths from colorectal cancer are expected nationally with 4,630 new cases and 1,600 deaths expected from colorectal cancer in our state of New Jersey this year alone.
According to leading cancer experts, many of these cases could be prevented. New research that tracked patients for more than 20 years showed the death rate from colorectal cancer was cut by more than half for those who had a colonoscopy and whose doctors removed precancerous growths.
Effective screening tests – including the gold standard, colonoscopy – identify the presence of cancer early, when treatment is most effective. More than 90 percent of patients with cancer confined to the colon or rectum live five years after their diagnosis. Regular screening is especially important because the earliest stages of colorectal cancer often have no symptoms, and about 75 percent of all new cases of colorectal cancer occur in people with no known risk factors for the disease. These screening tests can also detect pre-cancerous polyps (grape-like growths on the lining of the colon or rectum), which can be easily removed before they ever become cancer.
You may be asking yourself, when should I get screened? According to the CDC, individuals who are 50 or older should be screened. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, polyps, or inflammatory bowel disease; if you are African American, are obese, have diabetes, smoke or are a heavy alcohol user, you may need to be screened at a younger age. But in all cases, talk with your doctor about when you should begin screening and how often you should be tested.
Lastly, one of the things we can all do is do our best to lead a healthy lifestyle. Maintain a healthy weight through a good diet and exercise regularly. Do not smoke, and if you use alcohol, do so in moderation.
Colorectal cancer is preventable, beatable and treatable when caught early. This March please join me and other cancer awareness advocates in commemorating Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month by talking to your health care professional about screening options and ways to reduce your risk. Encourage those close to you to do the same.
While we don’t know the cause and cure of cancer, we do know early detection is the best protection.
Click here to send an e-card from the CDC and remind someone you care about to get screened for colorectal cancer.
For more information about colorectal cancer prevention and early detection, visit www.preventcancer.org.