Kenneth L Abbott, MD, FACP  |  3/9/2022

More on Awareness of Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is one of those good news-bad news situations in modern oncology. The good news is that over the past 30 years deaths from colorectal cancer have declined steadily, in large measure because of effective (when utilized) screening tools and improvements in surgery and chemotherapy that have produced higher cure rates. The bad news is that for unclear reasons the incidence of colorectal cancer in persons younger than 50 years of age has been rising. Furthermore, a whopping 86% of these affected persons have symptoms at the time they present for medical attention. Symptomatic colorectal cancer patients (as opposed to persons without symptoms receiving the diagnosis via discovery on screening tests) have, as a rule, more advanced disease and poorer outcomes from treatment. As with any cancer, the earlier the diagnosis, the greater the chance for successful treatment.

Therefore, everyone, especially those who have heightened risk for colorectal cancer because of a predisposing illness such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, a past history of “dangerous” kinds of polyps, and a family history for early-onset colorectal cancer or one of the other cancers closely associated with certain familial cancer syndromes should make absolutely sure to have appropriate screening done. If you are unsure what your risks may be, ask your primary health care provider for guidance.

Cancer is not a fun topic to discuss with family members, but you should try hard to obtain a complete family medical history. Don’t be afraid to be nosy. Lives may depend on early recognition of patterns. Pay particular attention to persons who received a cancer diagnosis at a young age, which usually means before 50 years. This history in first-degree relatives (parents, siblings, and children) is even more pertinent to your own risk assessment, as you stand the greatest chance of sharing your genetic material with these persons. Ask not just about colorectal cancer, but also cancers of the breast, ovaries, uterus, stomach, biliary tract, pancreas, small intestine, and urinary tract. If a pattern emerges, you can discuss your risks with your primary health care provider. CalvertHealth also has on-site genetic counseling to assist persons who may have an inherited cancer syndrome. In many instances, specific genetic testing is available to determine if you might carry one or more predisposing genetic mutations. Forewarned is forearmed.
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