Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

March 8, 2023

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At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we at StayWell continue to reinforce the importance of early screening for cancers of all types and this couldn’t be imperative than for colorectal cancer. Although not as widespread as breast and lung cancer, this cancer site is still within the top 5 cancers to claim lives each year. Of the 1.9 million people diagnosed with cancer in the United States, 8% of these diagnoses were colorectal cancer. However, despite this colon cancer holds the number three spot for deadliest cancers for men and fourth deadliest cancer for women, having claimed some 52 thousand lives each year. This Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month we discuss why early screening plays such a pivotal role in preventing death from colorectal cancer and attempt to address the barriers that makes this cancer of the top 5 most common cancer sites in the U.S.

Too Young for Cancer

Perhaps one of the most common misconceptions is that cancer is a disease for the aged. Although it is true that your risk for cancers increase as you age, colorectal cancer of all cancers is the most common cancer to occur at an early age. Early-Age Onset (EAO) are those cancer diagnoses that occur within patients under the age of 50 and according to the CDC the number of EAO cases for colorectal cancer is expected to increase 140% by the year 2030 to affect some 27,000 people under age 50.

This is why the standard age to begin screening for colorectal cancer is age now age 45 which was changed by the CDC only in 2021. However, the American Cancer Society estimates that more than 20 million Americans eligible for CRC screening have not been screened that’s 1 in 3 adults aged 45-75 years old. Recent surveys report that fear is the number one reason behind the attitudes of those adults who foregoing screening for colorectal cancer.

Fight the Fear

Studies that evaluate why patients are skipping colorectal cancer screenings have remained altogether consistent for the past ten years finding that fear tops the list in reasons why people aren’t getting screened. This fear is due in large part to the sexual connotations associated with colorectal screening and the possible embarrassment one might experience when undergoing the procedure. Understandably, the colorectal area is a very sensitive area and thousands of years of human cultural history have told us to be discreet about our bums. In fact, a 2012 study found that after general fear from the procedure, fear of contracting AIDS as a result of a colorectal screening. We can thank some sensational news articles which brought attention to some very rare instances in which some patients needed take precautionary STD screening after a colonoscopy. However, physicians agree that transmission of pathogens as a result of a colonoscopy is extremely rare with only a few reported cases out of the 10 million routine screenings that take place in the U.S. each year. All should be aware, though, that these few and far-in-between cases resulted in additional precautions that were instituted to further ensure that colorectal cancer screenings stay safe for everyone.

In addition, cultural and socioeconomic forces are at play when examining hesitancy in screening. In one 2012 study conducted in Kentucky, the CDC noted that male respondents pointed to attitudes and beliefs as their main concern against screening for colorectal cancer. Cultural perspectives on masculinity paired with public perceptions of healthcare systems transcended ethnic and socio-economic boundaries in this area which demonstrates just how widespread misconceptions about colorectal cancer screenings are in the U.S. Of these misconceptions the idea that colorectal screenings parallel a sexual encounter and therefore might affect or be indicative of one’s sexual orientation have heavily impacted the behaviors of men in relation to colorectal screening. This is perhaps the biggest obstacle we face as a society in getting more men — who have the highest risk for colorectal cancer — to get screened and potentially save lives. So far, the only effective means to address this issue has been through education, which the CDC points out as being a defining factor in swaying public opinion in favor of getting screened with highly educated Americans being more likely than those with a high school education or lower to participate in preventative screening.

For those who are hesitant in getting screened because of cultural, religious, or societal beliefs just know that your physician is there to help get you up-to-speed in understanding just how important and life-saving preventative colorectal cancer screening can be. As well, not all colorectal cancer screenings have to be via colonoscopy, rather there are a number of different screenings that may be recommended based on certain risk factors. Truly, the only way to get ahead of potential risks is by starting a conversation with your healthcare provider so you can address your beliefs and ideas about colorectal cancer screening and identify a path forward.

Screen for Life

In the case of colorectal cancer prevention, colorectal screening is the only clear choice. These tests identify precancerous growths in the site and identify abnormalities, also known as polyps. Through preventative screening it becomes much easier to remove abnormalities before they become cancerous or before the cancer can spread. Even if you don’t have a history of colorectal cancer in your family, it’s important to note that colorectal cancer can occur for a number of different reasons and you should discuss your possible risk factors with your physician. Understandably, there are many widespread ideas about colorectal cancer that may be affecting your decision to get screened. However, hopefully everyone understands that in the case of preventing colorectal cancer and its debilitating side effects there is an easy path and hard path which is getting preventative screening and avoiding complications altogether or dealing with the effects of colorectal cancer, cancer therapies and possibly death. With colorectal cancer being of the most life-threatening and common types of cancer out there, it isn’t going too far to say that for those who choose not to get preventative screening they are choosing a rather difficult path ahead. Truly, choosing to participate in preventative screening is not just a choice for your health, but a choice to live healthy.