National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
Excluding skin cancers, colorectal or colon cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States, with the average lifetime risk around 5%. The risk is a bit higher in men, African Americans, smokers, people over 65, and people who are obese.
“Because the risk of colon cancer can be hereditary for a minority of patients, many people assume that if no one in their family has ever had it they’re in the clear. This just isn’t the case,” says Dr. David Groteluschen, a Green Bay Oncology physician at HSHS St. Vincent Hospital Cancer Center at Door County Cancer Center, “The vast majority of patients diagnosed this year won’t have any family history of colon cancer.”
Colon cancer is also one of the most preventable cancers. As a baseline, it is important to maintain a healthy weight, quit smoking, and start colon screenings at age 45 as recommended.
A colon screening may save your life.
According to Dr. Groteluschen, age-adjusted rates of colon cancer have been dropping an average of 2% per year since 2009. This means the lifetime risk of colon cancer for the average American has never been lower, and part of this decline may be attributed to effective colon screenings.
“Most people diagnosed with colon cancer in 2019 won’t have any symptoms,” says Dr. Groteluschen, “we’ll find their cancers during either stool blood testing or a screening colonoscopy.” A minority of patients who present with more advanced cancer may notice difficulty having a bowel movement, bleeding when having a bowel movement, belly pain, or unexplained weight loss.
There are a variety of non-invasive cancer screenings that can be effective, including stool testing and virtual colonoscopy. However, the gold standard for the detection and prevention of colon cancer is invasive colonoscopy.
“The surgeons at Door County Medical Center (DCMC) have been performing this procedure for more than 30 years, with excellent results,” says Dr. Shaun Melarvie, surgeon at DCMC Surgical Services. “In fact, our polyp detection rate is greater than the national standard.”
I’ve been diagnosed with colon cancer, what now?
In 2019, there is a lot of innovation around the diagnosis and treatment of colon cancer. Almost everything a colon cancer patient needs can be done at DCMC, including diagnostic X Ray tests, biopsy, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and even experimental cancer therapy.
Even better, the survival rates of colon cancer have been steadily increasing since 2009. 65% of patients diagnosed with colon cancer this year will be alive five years later, and the majority of patients who make it to five years are actually cured. “We’re increasingly able to harness the immune system to attack cancer cells almost like fighting off an infection,” explains Dr. Groteluschen, “A whole new class of drugs called PDL1 inhibitors are already being used in some types of advanced colon cancer, and other immunologic approaches like CAR-T technology might soon take this concept even further.”
For patient comfort and efficiency, the specialists at HSHS St. Vincent Hospital Cancer Center interface with DCMC providers at almost every step. “We believe it’s our job as cancer specialists to support the patients in their community so they can stay close to home as often as possible. For that to work, we need to be able to provide support to the local healthcare providers 24/7. And that’s exactly what we do,” says Dr.Groteluschen.
Honor National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and schedule a colon screening today. For more information, talk with your doctor or call 920-743-5566.