According to the American Cancer Society, there will be about 108,070 new cases of colon cancer and 40,740 new cases of rectal cancer this year. Overall, the two will cause nearly 50,000 deaths.
Screenings for colon cancer play an important role in the steady decline of deaths caused by the disease.
“Colon cancer is one of the few cancers that is imminently preventable through screening,” said Patrick Loehrer Sr., M.D., deputy director and medical director of the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center.
He explained that colon cancer typically develops over a period of years in which abnormalities form into polyps. Cancer cells develop in the polyps.
During a colonoscopy – one of the screening options – a doctor is able to see the entire colon. If a polyp is found, it may be removed and tissue may be sent to the lab to see if any cancer is present. By removing a polyp, cancer cells can’t develop.
Typically, a person should have a colon cancer screening done at age 50 if they are of average risk, according to the American Cancer Society. In addition to a colonoscopy, other screenings include: stool blood test (fecal occult blood test or FOBT), flexible sigmoidoscopy, or barium enema with air contrast. Talk with your physician about the pros and cons of each screening.
Physicians advise that individuals at an increased risk of colorectal cancer should begin screenings earlier and/or be screened more often. The ACS considers a person at increased risk if they have:
- a personal history of colorectal cancer
- a personal history of chronic inflammatory bowel disease
- a strong family history of colorectal cancer or polyps (cancer or polyps in a first-degree relative – parent, sibling, or child – younger than 60, or in two first-degree relatives of any age)
- a known family history of hereditary colorectal cancer symptoms
What are the symptoms of colon cancer?
Dr. Loehrer said some symptoms may include:
- a change in bowel habits
- blood in stool
- abdominal pain
Talk with your doctor about any symptoms you may be experiencing. Symptoms do not mean you have cancer, but they should be discussed with a physician.
How is colon cancer treated?
As with most cancers, treatment for colon cancer includes surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Depending on the stage of the cancer, two or even three types of treatment may be used at the same time or consecutively.
For some people, clinical trials are an option. They are open to people either with a high risk for cancer or diagnosis of the disease. The IU Simon Cancer Center is conducting a number of colorectal clinical trials. For more information, visit www.cancer.iu.edu/cancer/trials or call (317) 274-0972.
Cancer Care Engineering Project
Researchers from the IU Simon Cancer Center along with others from the Purdue Cancer Center and the Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis are involved in the Cancer Care Engineering Project. Using colorectal cancer data, this team is creating tools to help improve prevention, treatment and care of those with cancer. Clinical data will be used to refine statistical and engineering simulation models to predict how to treat and possibly prevent cancer.