The recent death of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman at 43 years of age was shocking to fans around the world, many of whom had no idea the actor had been fighting colorectal cancer for several years. In the weeks since, Boseman’s tragic loss has shined an important light on this very common disease, which claims roughly 50,000 lives per year, and ranks as the third most deadly cancer for both men and women.
In 2020, it is estimated that there will be over 100,000 new cases of colon cancer in America, and over 40,000 new cases of rectal cancer. Across a lifetime, about one in 25 Americans, or 4% of the population, will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, but because it receives far less publication and awareness than lung, breast or prostate cancer, many people don’t even know if they might be at risk.
Fortunately, as Southeastern Med’s Dr. Michael Sarap points out, the death rate for colorectal cancer has been falling for decades, which he attributes to “increased screening, polyp removal at those screening procedures, early detection, and better treatment.
“Because of this,” Dr. Sarap adds, “there are over one and a half million survivors of colorectal cancer today, which is an amazing feat.”
As the doctor noted, early detection—as with all forms of cancer—is critical, and that begins by being aware of: (a) your risk factors for colorectal cancer, (b) symptoms of the disease itself, and (c) the screening options available for either preventing the disease or finding it at an early stage.
Common Risk Factors
Much like lung cancer and pancreatic cancer, colorectal cancer affects men and women to an almost equal degree, and while risk factors increase with age, younger people are not immune, as evidenced by the stunning loss of Chadwick Boseman. Some factors that may increase your susceptibility to colorectal cancer include:
- Being overweight / obese
- Not exercising or being active enough
- Having a diet consisting of too much red meat and/or processed and fried foods
- Excess Smoking
- Excess Drinking
- Pre-existing conditions such as Diabetes, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease
- A Family History of Colon Polyps
Certain ethnic groups, including African-Americans and Ashkenazi Jews, are also more likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
Dr. Sarap has identified several things to look for in terms of potential warning signs of colorectal cancer, including:
- Bleeding from the rectum
- Blood in the stool (could appear red, maroon, or black)
- Changes in stool pattern / consistency / shape lasting more than a few days
- Feeling unable to empty the rectum even after a bowel movement
The Importance of Screenings
“If a majority of Americans, 50 years or older, were appropriately screened for colorectal cancer,” Dr. Sarap says, “the death rate would plummet by at least one half.” As with all cancers, treating the disease in its later stages has a much lower success rate and will often prove much costlier. Instead, Dr. Sarap encourages anyone with average risk factors to start regular screenings by the age of 45; even earlier for those with some of the risk factors mentioned above.
Screenings not only provide early detection; they’re also a preventative measure. A screening can detect potential health risks several years before symptoms might become noticeable. Screening methods include:
- Fecal Immuno-Chemical Test – Annual*
- Multi-Targeted Stool DNA Test (aka ColoGuard Test) – Every 3 Years*
- Colonoscopy – Every 10 Years
*If either of these tests come back positive, it would then require getting a colposcopy, regardless of when your most recent colonoscopy was.
To learn more, contact the Southeastern Med Colorectal Cancer Hotline today at 740-435-2400.