You may have heard that the age for starting colon cancer screening was just lowered. You may even know someone that had a polyp removed during a colonoscopy. Or you may have wondered about a relative that had colon cancer – what does that mean for you, and is there anything you can do to find out?
Yes, actually, and the month of March is dedicated to helping you understand just that.
Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most common cancer diagnosed worldwide. Back in 2000, President Clinton declared the month of March to be the National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month, aiming to raise awareness of the condition and drive early detection. However, despite advances in screening technology and genetic testing options, it remains the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the US.
One reason for this is that preventative screening is yet to be adopted by many. Reasons vary: not enough time, too costly, too invasive, or maybe its just not on their radar. But catching it early can make a big difference, and that’s why healthcare providers around the country use this month to refocus on how screening can prevent CRC. To help spread the word, the experts at Genexsure have compiled five important facts about CRC that everyone should know:
- Early Detection is Key: CRC is detectable and treatable if found on time. Colonoscopies are an effective way to detect polyps that can eventually turn into cancer if not removed in a timely manner. The age for screening varies by country, and in the USA, you can start colonoscopies at age 45.
- National Guidelines Recommend Genetic Testing: If you have a family history or personal history of CRC diagnosed under 50 years old, national guidelines recommend genetic testing. Although it is dependent on your individual policy, many insurance companies cover genetic testing for CRC due to these guidelines.
- Family History Influences Next Steps: While genetics can play a role in cancer, it is not always possible to identify a genetic cause, define the risk, or identify who is at risk (and who is not), even when there is a history of CRC in the family. Speaking with a genetic counselor to evaluate the family history can help; for some people, their family history alone makes them eligible for earlier and/or more frequent screening.
- Personalized medicine is real: Today, there are personalized approaches to the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of CRC. For example, individuals with Lynch Syndrome may benefit from more frequent and intensive colonoscopies, while those with certain genetic variations may respond better to certain targeted therapies.
- Lifestyle Factors Play a Role: Alcohol, smoking, and obesity are all associated with increased risks for CRC and other types of cancer. Conversely, maintaining a healthy diet, healthy weight, and physical activity are associated with lower rates of CRC and other cancers as well as heart diseases.
Talking about cancer can be scary, but it is important to do so. Together, with increased awareness about the condition and access to screening and genetic testing options, we can work towards a future with lower rates of colorectal cancer and improved outcomes.
Currently, Genexsure provides genetic counseling and testing through *** (insert hospital name). To find a genetic counselor near you, you can ask your primary care provider or gastroenterologist for a referral. Alternatively, please visit the National Society of Genetic Counselors page on ‘Find a Genetic Counselor’ (linked here) and input your zip code.
Reference for Clinton’s declaration: https://clintonwhitehouse4.archives.gov/WH/New/html/20000301_1.html