SEATTLE — March 1, 2011 — Despite the fact that colon cancer screening saves lives, the majority of U.S. adults age 50 and over who are eligible for such screening fail to take advantage of it. Consider the numbers: In 2000, only 16.3 million of 80 million eligible adults (about 20 percent) received colon cancer screening such as the fecal occult blood test (the most popular choice), sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.
While each form of colon cancer screening has its advantages and disadvantages, people are often squeamish about anything having do with the subject,
“The important thing is to do at least one of the tests once you reach age 50,” said William Grady, M.D., a colorectal cancer specialist at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and member of the Clinical Research Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
While diet and exercise may play a role in preventing colon cancer, the most important way to prevent death from the disease is through early detection, Grady said. “This means regular colorectal cancer screening tests beginning at age 50 — earlier if you are at higher risk. If all colon-cancer cases were detected at their earliest stages, five-year overall survival rates would jump from 65 percent to 90 percent.”
In honor of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, this month the Hutchinson Center is reprising its “End Colon Cancer Now” awareness campaign that features a website containing information about screening and a quick test to assess your risk of colon cancer.
Grady and other screening advocates are adamant about colon cancer screening because even though it is preventable, it remains the second-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. It is also one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the U.S., occurring more than 90 percent of the time in people age 50 and older.
Following is a summary of the currently available colon cancer screening tests:
Persons with hereditary risk factors for colon cancer, such as first-degree relatives who had colon cancer, need to be screened earlier and perhaps more often, said Grady, who recommends that such patients talk to their doctor for screening recommendations.
Washington is among 27 states that mandate health insurance coverage of colon cancer screening, which helps to eliminate the financial obstacle to testing.
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
About Seattle Cancer Care Alliance – 10 Years, Thousands of Lives Saved
Every day, the goal of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance is to turn cancer patients into cancer survivors. SCCA unites the adult and pediatric cancer-care programs of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, UW Medicine and Seattle Children’s. Together they comprise the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in six states, from Washington to the Dakotas. A major focus of SCCA is to speed the transfer of new diagnostic and treatment techniques from the research setting to the patient bedside. Patients receive the latest research-based cancer therapies as well as cutting-edge treatments. SCCA has three clinical-care sites: an outpatient clinic on the Hutchinson Center campus, a pediatric-inpatient unit at Children’s and an adult-inpatient unit at UW Medical Center. SCCA celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2011. For more information visit www.seattlecca.org