LEWISTOWN - March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and the American Cancer Society says there is reason to celebrate.
A recent ACS study shows in the last 10 years, the rate at which people are diagnosed with colon cancer has dropped 30 percent in the U.S. According to the society's website, www.cancer.org, researchers attribute the decrease to an increase in recommended screenings.
Because most people diagnosed with colon cancer are older than 50, the ACS recommends that age for people at average risk to begin screening. According to the ACS website, screening rates among those age 50 to 75 was 55 percent in 2010, compared to 19 percent in 2000.
Though the figures represent good news, ACS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and more than 70 other organizations have banded together with a goal of increasing screening rates to 80 percent by 2018.
The CDC's latest statistics show more than 130,000 people were diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and it was the cause of death for more than 52,000 Americans in 2010. This number has been on the decline for the past 20 years, a cause for further optimism, showing colonoscopy screening is effective.
"Colorectal cancer survival is not only impacted by early detection, but can be prevented by the removal of polyps during screening, starting at age 50 for those adults considered average risk without a family history," said Charles Everhart, a gastroenterologist for Geisinger Gastroenterology and Endoscopy Center in Lewistown. "Of cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States."
For the most part, colon cancer starts in the glands in the lining of the colon and rectum and may not cause any symptoms until its later stages. Lack of physical activity, obesity, cigarette smoking and a diet high in red or processed meats are all risk factors.
"Colon cancer is one of the most preventable cancers if regular screenings are done," Everhart said. "Screenings can find precancerous polyps, which can be removed during colonoscopy before they turn into cancer. Through screening, even those discovered to have colon cancer may be candidates for minimally invasive surgery and other treatments that tend to be well tolerated. So the good news about this cancer also extends to those requiring treatment."
The CDC reports that about nine out of 10 people whose colon cancer was found and treated early are still alive five years later.
In all, Americans have come a long way in preventing colorectal cancer. From 2001 to 2010, the CDC reports the incidence of colorectal cancer has dropped almost four percent per year for men and more than three percent per year for women. Additionally, deaths from the disease have decreased three percent per year equally for men and women.
"In recent years, the medical knowledge of colorectal cancer has increased exponentially," Everhart said. "With this knowledge, we now understand how important regular screenings are for those at risk for colorectal cancer. Unfortunately, recent federal estimates show only six in 10 adults are up to date with their screenings, leaving room for even greater improvement in the prevention of colorectal cancer."
Health and Business Editor Kim Hayes contributed to this report.