In February 2000, President Clinton officially dedicated March as National Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Colorectal cancer is a cancer that starts in the colon or the rectum. Most colorectal cancers begin as a growth on the inner lining of the colon or rectum called a polyp. Some types of polyps can change into cancer over the course of several years, but not all polyps become cancer.
Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society. The lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 21 for men, and 1 in 23 for women.
“Obesity, high consumption of red meat and lack of exercise have been associated with an increased rate of colorectal cancer.” says Khalid Matin, M.D., medical oncologist specializing in colorectal cancer at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Massey Cancer Center.
African Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial and ethnic group in the U.S. for most cancers. Colon cancer affects men and women of all racial and ethnic groups, and is most often found in people 50 years or older. However, incidence in those younger than 50 is on the rise. About 189,910 new cancer cases were expected to be diagnosed among blacks in 2016. The most commonly diagnosed cancers among black men are prostate (31% of all cancers), lung (15%), and colon and rectum (9%). Among black women, the most common cancers are breast (32% of all cancers), lung (11%), and colon and rectum (9%).
Check out this PSA on African Americans and Colorectal Cancer:
“We tend to see increased colorectal cancer at a younger age in African American patients. This is likely a combination of lower screening and dietary and lifestyle factors driven by socioeconomics, reduced access to care and possibly reduced awareness. Reduced vitamin D levels, which are lower in African Americans, may be another factor.” comments Dr. Matin.
Signs and symptoms of colon cancer include:
- A change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool, that lasts longer than four weeks
- Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
- Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
- A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
- Weakness or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
Many people with colon cancer experience no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. When symptoms appear, they’ll likely vary, depending on the cancer’s size and location in your large intestine.
Educating community members and primary care physicians is the key. The National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable has partnered with the American Cancer Society and other organizations, including VCU Massey Cancer Center, to raise awareness through a campaign called 80% by 2018. The goal is to increase the colon cancer screening rate to 80% of adults 50 or older.
It gets harder to treat the more it has spread, because there are more cancer cells we have to eradicate. It also gets tougher to cure as it progresses.
“Cancers in general are much easier to treat at an earlier stage because we can use surgery, chemotherapy and radiation to eradicate every cancer cell. This is much more difficult when it spreads outside the colon. At VCU Massey Cancer Center we have a multidisciplinary tumor conference where every new patient’s case is discussed so we can develop a consensus on the best treatment for that patient.” says Dr. Matin.
For more information on colorectal cancer, including finding a clinical trial, screenings and more, visit the National Cancer Institute, https://www.cancer.gov/types/colorectal.