March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and Western Wisconsin Health is raising awareness about this potentially life-threatening disease.
Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the United States, affecting both men and women, and is the second leading cause of death from cancer. Every year, about 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, causing more than 56,000 fatalities. Colorectal cancer affects all racial and ethnic groups and is most often found in people ages 50 and older.
The good news is that colorectal cancer is highly preventable and curable if caught early. However, since there are often no signs or symptoms when it is first developing, colorectal cancer can only be caught with regular screening starting at the age of 50. More than 90% of colorectal cancers occur in people aged 50 and older. Screening tests help prevent colorectal cancer by finding precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) so they can be removed. Screening also detects this cancer early, when treatment can be most effective.
“The benefits of early detection and treatment are substantial,” says Dr. Clint Semrau, General Surgeon at Western Wisconsin Health. “The possibility of curing patients after symptoms develop is only about 50%, but if colorectal cancer is found and treated at an early stage before symptoms develop, the opportunity to cure it is 80% or more. Most colon cancers start as non-cancerous growths called polyps. If we are able to find these polyps while they are still non-cancerous, we can remove them and the cancer may be prevented. Major surgery can usually be avoided, as well,” Dr. Semrau adds.
Prevention is key
There are several factors that can put you at risk for colorectal cancer. Some causes are beyond your control such as age or family history. Risk for the disease does increase with age. People over age 50 have the highest risk of colorectal cancer. Other factors can be controlled by lifestyle choices such as smoking and exercising. Everyone can take healthy steps to help lower their risk and prevent the disease including:
- Getting screened starting at age 50.
- Encouraging family and friends over age 50 to get screened.
- Avoiding foods that are high in fat.
- Eating plenty of vegetables, fruits and other high-fiber foods.
- Exercising regularly and maintaining a normal body weight.
- Not smoking and drinking alcohol only in moderation.
There are several screening test options. Talk with your provider about which is right for you. If you’re aged 50 to 75, get screened for colorectal cancer regularly. If you’re over 75, ask your provider if you should be screened. If you think you may be at high risk, talk to your provider about when and how often to get tested. Screenings for colorectal cancer include:
- Colonoscopy – a test that allows the physician to look directly at the lining of the entire colon and rectum (every 10 years).
- Digital rectal examination and fecal occult blood test – screens for hidden blood in the stool (every year).
- Sigmoidoscopy – a test that allows the physician to look directly at the lining of the lower colon and rectum (every 5 years).
- CT colonography – x-ray of the colon (every five years).
Our full-time General Surgeon, Dr. Clint Semrau, performs outpatient colonoscopies to screen for colorectal cancer. Learn more at wwhealth.org or call 715-684-1111 to schedule an appointment.