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Guest column: March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month

Guest Column (Adobe Stock)

Guest Column (Adobe Stock)

Getting screened is the best way to protect against colorectal cancer

Not long ago, colorectal cancer was thought to be a concern mostly for those age 50 and older. But with more cases of this deadly cancer being found among those in their 40s or younger, doctors nationwide recommend testing by age 45 or sooner for those with identified risk factors.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, which is a good time for Arizonans to improve our focus on the disease that kills more Americans — and more Arizonans — than any cancer except lung cancer. Nationally, colorectal cancer kills more than 52,000 people annually.

Colorectal cancer almost always develops from precancerous polyps in the colon or rectum, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Screening tests can find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they develop into cancer.

The latest data shows that Arizona has a great opportunity to better protect ourselves against colorectal cancer. Only about 69% of Arizonans have received at least one screening test by the recommended age, compared with about 74% nationally. According to the Arizona Cancer Registry, more than half of cases were diagnosed at a late stage, when it is more difficult to treat.

Testing is recommended before age 45 for those with known risk factors, including inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps, or a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).

There are a variety of tests your doctor may recommend. They include stool tests, flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, and CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy). Each of these methods has advantages and disadvantages, so talk to your health care provider to determine the best test for you and how often you should be tested. If you’re unsure if you should be screening for colorectal cancer, you can take this short quiz from the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, or speak to your health care provider.

Diagnosing colorectal cancer early is the best choice; the survival rate is 90% for those diagnosed before the cancer spreads. Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is the perfect time to talk with your health care provider about what you should do now.

Sheila Sjolander

Arizona Department of Health Services

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