Is cancer preventable? That's a provocative question. For some types of cancer -- like colorectal cancer -- the answer is a resounding "yes"; colorectal cancer may be largely preventable or treated with greater success if detected early. However, people must be made aware of the screening guidelines and follow them. Presently, one in three adults of screening age is NOT getting screened.
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and the perfect time to help turn that statistic around. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. This year, 142,820 new cases and 50,830 deaths from colorectal cancer are expected nationally, with 1,640 new cases and 580 deaths expected in the state of Iowa alone. These numbers are slightly lower than those in 2012, attributed in part to more people being screened. Still, many more cases could be prevented. Recently released research that tracked patients for more than 20 years showed the death rate from colorectal cancer was cut by more than half for those who had a colonoscopy and whose doctors removed precancerous growths.
Effective screening tests including the colonoscopy -- identify the presence of cancer early, when treatment is most effective. More than 90 percent of patients with colon or rectal cancer live five years after their diagnosis. Regular screening is especially important because the earliest stages of colorectal cancer often have no symptoms, and about 75 percent of all new cases of colorectal cancer occur in people with no known risk factors for the disease. These screening tests can also detect pre-cancerous polyps (grape-like growths on the lining of the colon or rectum), which can be easily removed before they ever become cancer.
People who are 50 or older should be screened. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, polyps, or inflammatory bowel disease; if you are African American, are obese, have diabetes, smoke or are a heavy alcohol user, you might need to be screened earlier. And do the things we all know we should do: Lead a healthy lifestyle by maintaining a healthy weight through a good diet and regular exercise. Do not smoke, and if you use alcohol, do so in moderation.
Colorectal cancer is preventable, beatable and treatable when caught early. This March, commemorate Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month by talking to your health care professional about screening options and ways to reduce your risk. Encourage those close to you to do the same. When it comes to your health, you never want to do too little, too late. For more information about colorectal cancer prevention and early detection, visit www.preventcancer.org.
Barbara Grassley is a member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation and the spouse of Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa. She is a breast cancer survivor.