Opinion

Ostrom: Colorectal cancer screenings must remain a priority

Posted 2/24/21

Did you know that one of the most prevalent and deadly cancers in the United States is colorectal cancer?

In fact, colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and is the …

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Opinion

Ostrom: Colorectal cancer screenings must remain a priority

Posted

Did you know that one of the most prevalent and deadly cancers in the United States is colorectal cancer?

In fact, colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and is the third-leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This year’s Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is more important than ever, especially because at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many clinics were closed and appointments — including important cancer screenings — were canceled or delayed.

When it comes to your colon health, age plays an important factor. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 90 percent of people with colon cancer are diagnosed after age 50, and the average age at diagnosis is 72.

Detecting colorectal cancer early is important.

When colorectal cancer is found at stage 1, before it has spread, the five-year relative survival rate is about 90 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. When the cancer progresses and spreads outside the colon or rectum, survival rates are lower.

Screening is as important now as it was before the pandemic. It’s recommended that anyone 50 and over get a colorectal screening, which is an essential preventive measure. With COVID-19, patients might think that a hospital is the last place they should go now. However, hospitals and clinics are following protocols to sanitize, socially distance and keep infected people in isolated areas to ensure patients are safe and feel comfortable.

There are also new in-home colon cancer screening tests that were recently launched by medical groups, including OptumCare Primary Care, to ensure that patients are still managing their health when their screening is due.

Here are the colorectal cancer screening tests recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  •  Fecal immunochemical testing (FIT) kits: an in-home colon cancer screening test to detect blood in the stool.
  • FIT-DNA: combines the FIT with a test that detects altered DNA in the stool.
  •  Flexible sigmoidoscopy - detects polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon.
  •  Colonoscopy exam - a tiny camera on a flexible tube transmits images of the inside of the colon to discover any growths or abnormalities such as polyps and cancers.
  • Virtual colonoscopy - uses X-rays and computers to produce images of the entire colon.

In addition, while in-person appointments are beneficial for colon health, virtual appointments are also an option and are available at OptumCare Primary Care Clinics.

Lifestyle approaches, especially related to diet and exercise, can also lower your risk of colorectal cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Being overweight and physically inactive, consuming high amounts of alcohol, red meat and processed meat have been shown to increase the risk of colorectal cancer.

In short, with colorectal cancer, prevention is key! So being prepared and aware of your options is vital to staying healthy. Through screenings, understanding risk factors and engaging in a healthy lifestyle and healthier choices, lives can be saved.

Why not start this month?

Editor’s Note: Dr. Tara Ostrom is associate medical director with OptumCare Primary Care.

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