March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and, in recognition, Queens Medical Associates is implementing a community outreach program to educate the public on the disease, signs to look for, new screening tools and available treatment.
“Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States,” said Dr. Barry Kaplan, president and founder of the medical practice, which specializes in the care of patients with oncologic and hematologic conditions. However, due to advances in screening techniques and improvements in treatments, the death rate from colorectal cancer has been falling,” he explains.
Colorectal cancer—also known as bowel cancer, colon cancer, or rectal cancer—is any cancer that affects the colon and rectum.
Many of the symptoms of colorectal cancer can also be caused by something that isn’t cancer, such as infection, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease. In most cases, people who have these symptoms do not have cancer. Still, if you have any of these problems, it’s a sign that you should go to the doctor, so the cause can be found and treated:
• A change in bowel habits—such as diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool—that lasts for more than a few days
• A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so
• Rectal bleeding
• Dark stools or blood in the stool
• Cramping or abdominal pain
• Weakness and fatigue
• Unintended weight loss
Since colorectal cancer often doesn’t cause symptoms until it is advanced, the American Cancer Society recommends regular colorectal cancer screening for most people starting at age 50.
When colorectal cancer is found early, before it has spread, the five-year relative survival rate is 90 percent. This means that nine out of 10 people with early-stage cancer survive at least five years. But if the cancer has spread outside the colon or rectum, survival rates are lower. Experts still say that the best way to screen for colon cancer and prevent the disease is to have a colonoscopy test every 10 years, but more often particularly if you have any of these risk factors:
• A family history of colon cancer
• A previous diagnosis
• Inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
• A personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps
• Lifestyle factors that may contribute to an increased risk of colorectal cancer include
• Lack of regular physical activity
• A diet low in fruit and vegetables
• A low-fiber and high-fat diet
• Overweight and obesity
• Excessive alcohol consumption
• Tobacco use
Testing oneself for colon cancer is now easier and more accurate. There are new do-it-yourself kits that enables individuals to collect your stool sample in the privacy of your home, which was approved by the FDA in 2014. Once a doctor orders the test, a kit is shipped to a person’s home. A stool sample must be collected and mailed to a lab in a prepaid, pre-addressed box. The lab sends results to your doctor within two weeks.
The new at-home screening test looks for DNA cell changes linked to cancer. This test is approved only for patients without the increased risk factors noted above. Tests for blood in the stool remain another standard screening test.
Colon cancer is preventable if pre-cancerous polyps are found and removed. If an individual is diagnosed with colorectal cancer, treatment depends on how early it is found, but may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and targeted therapies.
“There is no longer a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to cancer treatment,” explains Dr. Kaplan.
“The staff at Queens Medical Associates seeks to pave the way for truly personalized cancer treatment, which can have a profound impact on prognosis and improved outcomes.”