Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. Yet, 90 percent of all colorectal cancer cases and deaths are thought to be preventable. Despite the potential of screening tests to prevent colon cancer and save lives, screening rates remain low - about two in five adults age 50 and older report not having been screened.
"The numbers just don't make sense," said Lorrie Graaf, director of health care partnerships for the American Cancer Society in Iowa. "When you have a screening that can prevent 90 percent of a disease that will take nearly 50,000 lives in the United States with 600 of those coming in Iowa this year, and only 60 percent of adults get the screening. Those numbers just don't add up."
There are three main risk factors for developing colorectal cancer: age, race and family history.
Age - 90 percent of colon cancer cases are diagnosed in people older than 50.
Race - African-Americans have the highest incidence rate and death rate from colon cancer of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S. African-Americans are also less likely than other racial or ethnic groups to have colon cancer diagnosed in the earliest most treatable stage.
Family history - The Cancer Society recommends adults aged 50 and older get tested for the disease. People with colon cancer in their families may need to start getting tested when they are younger.
Colon cancer prevention tips
If you're 50 or older, schedule a colon cancer screening.
Eat a balanced diet.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Maintain an active lifestyle.
Learn your family medical history.
Colon cancer almost always starts with a polyp - a small growth on the lining of the colon or rectum. Some colon cancer tests can find polyps and your doctor can remove them before they become cancerous. If you are 50 or older, the American Cancer Society recommends you talk to your doctor about getting tested, even if you have no symptoms, and discuss which test is right for you. And if you have a family history of colon cancer, you may need to get tested earlier than age 50.
If colon cancer is found early, the survival rate is 90 percent. Yet only 39 percent of colon cancers are found at this early stage. For colon cancer found in its latest stages, the five-year survival rate is just 10 percent.
You can reduce your risk of colon cancer by quitting tobacco, eating right, maintaining a healthy body weight, limiting the consumption of alcohol and high-fat foods, and becoming more physically active.
The American Cancer Society and its nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, are working to ensure all Americans who need colon cancer testing and treatment have access to them. To learn more about colon cancer testing and how to talk about it with your doctor, call your American Cancer Society at (800) ACS-2345 for free information, or visit www.cancer.org/colon.
Liddy Hora is the community relations representative in the Fort Dodge area for the American Cancer Society.