MEDIA NOTE: If you would like to schedule an interview regarding colorectal cancer with Duane Webb, MD, and/or a patient, call Carol Clayton at 919-470-6527.
Cancers of the colon and rectum are among the most common cancers in the U.S. In fact, one out of every 20 individuals have colorectal cancer at some time in their lifetime, and it is estimated that colorectal cancer will kill 56,000 people this year in the U.S.—more than any other cancer excluding lung cancer.
Polyps, which form in the colon and rectum, are benign tumors that can become cancerous. Colorectal cancer is a condition in which cells in the polyps become abnormal and divide without control or order, forming a malignant tumor. March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. To protect yourself, know common symptoms, risk factors and steps you can take for early detection and treatment.
According to Duane Webb, MD, gastroenterologist and Chief of the Gastroenterology Division at Durham Regional Hospital, while the exact causes of colorectal cancer are not known studies show that certain factors increase a person’s chance of developing colorectal cancer.
Age. Approximately nine out of 10 people with colorectal cancer are 50 years of age or older.
Personal history. A person who has had colorectal cancer may develop it a second time. The chance of developing colorectal cancer also increases in women with a history of bladder, ovarian, uterine or breast cancer.
Family history. Relatives of people who have had colorectal cancer have increased chances of developing cancer.
Inflammatory bowel disease, generally known as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s colitis, is a condition in which the colon is inflamed over a long period of time and may have ulcers in its lining. People with this condition have an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
“Most colorectal cancers develop from polyps, benign growths on the inner wall of the colon or rectum,” says Webb. “There is no clear way to prevent colorectal cancer and often there are no symptoms until the polyps have turned into cancer. That’s why it is important not to wait for symptoms, but to be screened for early detection of pre-cancerous polyps.”
The American Cancer Society recommends that all men and women age 50 and older have screening tests and procedures done every five to 10 years. Screening may start earlier and take place more frequently for patients with family history of colorectal cancer or other risk factors.
“Most people who undergo colorectal screening do not have any abnormalities. Polyps are found in about 30 percent of people who undergo screening colonoscopy, but only about 1 percent of these are malignant. For those who have screening, diagnosis and treatment can occur more quickly, resulting in prevention and even cure of colorectal cancer,” says Webb.
There are a variety of diagnostic tests and procedures that check for colorectal polyps or cancer. At the present time, the most cost-effective procedure is colonoscopy. This procedure allows a physician to see inside the colon and rectum by using a tube while the patient is sedated. In fact, at the time of the procedure, pre-cancerous polyps can be removed. Colonscopy has been shown to find smaller polyps in comparison to other diagnostic procedures, such as the flexible sigmoidoscopy or the barium enema. Flexible sigmoidoscopy only examines about one-third of the colon, and because the patient is not sedated during the procedure, is often very uncomfortable.
You should discuss these alternatives with your doctor to determine what diagnostic tests and procedures are best for you.
As of 2002, insurance companies must follow the guidelines recommended by the American Cancer Society. Therefore, the patient and the physician have the option to choose among the diagnostic tests and procedures available.