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Colon Cancer is Best Treated in its Early Stages and Through Screenings

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March 3, 2023

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

As March is designated Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, did you know that this potentially deadly disease is highly treatable if detected early and that screenings and early treatment are often the difference between life and death?

According to the American Cancer Society, there are also steps you can take to lower your risk of developing this disease that’s expected to claim about 52,550 lives this year. It is estimated there will be about 106,970 new cases of colon cancer this year alone.

Additionally, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women, and it’s the second most common cause of cancer deaths when numbers for men and women are combined, the American Cancer Society notes. 

“Diagnosing colon cancer at an early stage is critical as the survival rate can be as high as 90%,” said Dr. Karl Kwok, an interventional gastroenterologist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “Thanks to regular screenings and the technology available today, we can detect advanced precancerous polyps and, in many cases, remove them using techniques that won’t require surgery or hospital stays.”

According to Dr. Kwok, colon cancer cases are often caused by the sporadic development of precancerous polyps that doesn’t cause symptoms for a long period of time, and that’s why screening is critical. The earlier the detection and removal of the precancerous polyps, the lower the chance that it can grow into an advanced polyp which can ultimately lead to cancer. 

Additionally, Dr. Kwok noted many studies have shown that removing precancerous colon polyps in their early stages offers maximum protection against subsequent development of colon cancer.

What methods are used to screen people for colorectal cancer?

Kaiser Permanente encourages those age 45 and older to undergo screening with various options, including:

  • A yearly at-home fecal immunochemical test, also known as FIT.
  • For  those at average-risk, a sigmoidoscopy every five years.
  • For those at average risk, a colonoscopy every 10 years.

What risk factors increase a person’s chance of developing colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer?

Some of the known risk factors for developing colon cancer include:

  • Having a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Having a diet heavy in red meats and processed meats.
  • Smoking and heavy alcohol use.
  • Being overweight or obese.
  • Having a family history of colon cancer, especially a first-degree relative (mother, father, sibling, or child).
  • Having a personal history of colorectal polyps or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis (a condition that causes chronic inflammation of the colon).
  • Your racial and ethnic background or your personal health history; for example, African- Americans have the highest colorectal cancer incidence. People with a history of kidney transplants, and people with Type 2 diabetes also have an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

Kaiser Permanente offers valuable information about colorectal cancer and the screening process.