Preventing cancer typically comes at the cost of modifying one’s behavior. Medical professionals beg patients to cut down on tobacco usage, develop an exercise routine and incorporate health conscious meals into diets. While this advice is well researched and proven to reduce the risk of developing many cancers, many people may find it difficult to heed.
Because of the significant amounts of time, effort and patience required to follow these seemingly simple guidelines, some of us give up on forming better habits. While struggling with these modifiable behaviors may be detrimental to prevention of an array of cancers, heading off colorectal cancer typically only requires a small commitment by oneself each decade. March being Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, let’s look at more detail into this important matter.
Colorectal cancer is currently the second leading cause of cancer deaths in U.S. men and women combined. In fact, nearly 35% of the approximately 145,000 new cases each year will likely result in death. Yet while a healthy diet and exercise may help prevent developing such cancer, there is one thing that can prevent over half of the deaths: colorectal cancer screening.
In May 2018, the American Cancer Society (ACS) changed their recommended colorectal cancer screening guidelines for those at average risk to begin at age 45 and proceed until 75 years, instead of the previous guideline of commencing at age 50. This, because over the past few decades, an increase in the rate of colorectal cancers, especially rectal cancers, has been observed in young adults under 50. The data also indicate that people under 55 years are more likely to be diagnosed with late stage colorectal cancer than older people. As with the previous guidelines, after the first screening by colonoscopy, individuals of average risk are advised to have one screening every ten years.
Why Aren’t More Americans Getting Colorectal Cancer Screenings?
- Despite the minimal amount of time and effort required to screen for colorectal cancer, only one in three people are not up to date on their screenings. Many people may believe that since they have no family history, they are not advised to undergo screening. But unlike many other forms of cancer, only a very small percentage of colorectal cancers are associated with inherited genes. Individuals having a family history possess more risk in development and, therefore, screening should begin before age 45, while those without such profiles should still be undergoing screening from the age of 45. A discussion with your physician about family history, lifestyle and diet allows for a shared decision about what age and type of colorectal cancer screening you should consider.
- When it comes to preventative health services, many individuals may be concerned about the associated cost. While most insurance companies should cover colorectal screening for people age 50 years and older, to find out exactly what is needed to pay the minimal out-of-pocket fees, contact your insurer directly or review your information packet. People age 45 years who are considering a colorectal cancer screen under the ACS new guidelines, the appropriate and cost-effective test can be discussed with your doctor and in consultation with your insurer to determine test coverage. If, however, an individual is uninsured, undergoing preventative screening has still been proven to be highly cost effective. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology suggests that undergoing screening before receiving coverage by Medicare may yield substantial clinical and economic benefits.
- The third main reason that more Americans in the specified age bracket are not receiving colorectal cancer screening may be attributed to anxiety of screening methods. Traditionally, the screening consists of a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy, though tried and true, may sound potentially uncomfortable to some. The use of the thin tube to check for polyps in the colon is usually relatively painless—and often completed before the patient is aware that it has been conducted. But there are other ways in which to screen for colorectal cancer. If an individual is anxious about a colonoscopy, he or she should talk to their doctor about alternative screening methods. Such approaches may include a stool test or a virtual colonoscopy completed using X-rays.
Undergoing colorectal cancer screenings is a conversation you should have with your physician at age 45 if you are at average risk, or earlier if you are at high risk. Screening for cancer is the best opportunity for receiving an early diagnosis. And, as is the case in the majority of cancers, early diagnosis is often life-saving.