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Early detection remains critical to long-term survival

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This March, the American Cancer Society is encouraging men and women 50 and older to make getting tested for colorectal cancer a priority. Colorectal cancer (commonly referred to as colon cancer) is one of only two cancers that can actually be prevented through screening, which allows doctors to find polyps in the colon and remove them before they turn cancerous. Regularly scheduled colorectal cancer screening can help save lives and help achieve the American Cancer Society’s goal of creating a world with less cancer and more birthdays.

Screening for colon cancer has been proven to reduce deaths from the disease both by decreasing the number of people who are diagnosed with it and by finding a higher proportion of cancers at early, more treatable stages. Overall, colon cancer rates have declined rapidly in both men and women in the past two decades, due in part to early detection and removal of precancerous polyps. However, only half of the U.S. population aged 50 and older have been tested.

“When detected early, colorectal cancer has a 90 percent survival rate, and is one of only two cancers that can be prevented through screening,” said Yolanda Wide, community program representative for the American Cancer Society in Central Indiana. “However, far too many lives are lost each year to colorectal cancer simply because it’s not detected early. Everyone age 50 and older – regardless of whether they have any symptoms – should talk to their doctor about getting screened. It can save lives.”

During the month of March, the American Cancer Society in Central Indiana is collaborating with the Marion County Health Department, Colon and Rectal Care, Gastroenterology Associates, Community Hospitals, IU Health University Hospital and MedTech College to offer free colon cancer risk assessments for those over 50. Central Indiana residents can request a colon cancer risk assessment by calling (317) 344-1019 or toll-free (800) 233-6303 March 1-31. The process takes approximately 10 minutes, and participants will be required to answer several questions regarding their personal and family health history, previous colon cancer screenings and symptoms. Those callers who qualify will then be offered a free flexible sigmoidoscopy screening from one of the participating health care facilities.

The American Cancer Society recommends the following tests to find colon cancer early:

Tests that detect adenomatous polyps and cancer

• Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years

• Colonoscopy every 10 years

• Double contrast barium enema (DCBE) every 5 years, or

• CT colonography (CTC) every 5 years

Tests that primarily detect cancer

• Annual guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) with high test sensitivity for cancer

• Annual fecal immunochemical test (FIT) with high test sensitivity for cancer, or

• Stool DNA test (sDNA), with high sensitivity for cancer, interval uncertain.

Because of their greater potential to prevent cancer, the tests that have a higher likelihood of finding both polyps and cancer are preferred if patients are willing to use them and have access to them. “What really matters is that people over 50 years old get screened with some test, whichever one they choose,” said Peter H. Schwartz, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

In addition to screening, there are healthy lifestyle behaviors that individuals can adopt to reduce risk of colon cancer. Studies show that being overweight or obese increases risk of colon cancer, and people whose diets include a high amount of red and processed meats are at increased risk. The American Cancer Society recommends that adults engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on five or more days of the week; and consume a healthy diet that includes five or more servings of vegetables and fruits each day, whole grains (instead of processed grains and sugars), limited alcohol and processed and red meats, and controlled portion sizes (visit cancer.org/GreatAmericans for tips and ideas on how to eat healthy and exercise regularly).

Smoking also increases risk of colon cancer. A 2009 study from the American Cancer Society found that long-term smoking (smoking for 40 or more years) increases colon cancer risk by 30 to 50 percent. Smokers who want to quit can call the American Cancer Society Quit For Life Program operated and managed by Free & Clear at (800) 227-2345 for tobacco cessation and coaching services that can help increase their chances of quitting for good; or visit cancer.org/GreatAmericans for customized tips that can help with quitting smoking for good.

An estimated 142,570 cases of colorectal cancer were expected to occur in 2010, and 51,370 deaths were expected. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women. Risk factors for colon cancer include a personal family history of the disease.

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