Colorectal cancer screenings may save lives

Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer for both men and women, and represents the third highest cause of death among all cancers. The most interesting detail related to this statistic is that almost 80 percent of all colorectal cancers could either be prevented or diagnosed early enough that the long-term survival rates would double from what they currently are.

Colorectal cancer usually develops slowly within the colon or rectum and begins as a non-cancerous polyp, which may form into a cancerous one. Since these polyps are slow-growing, many of them can be detected through annual screenings and/or routine tests and removed before they become cancerous. Fortunately, the number of deaths associated with colorectal cancer has declined over the past few years, due partially to more people getting screened early and the removal of polyps before they develop into cancer.

Those at risk of developing colorectal cancer are a men or women over the age of 50, or those who have immediate family members (a parent, sibling or child) who have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer. People who may have a personal history of colorectal polyps or chronic inflammatory bowel disease also are at risk. These individuals should begin colorectal screenings earlier in their adult life. Studies show the incidence of this cancer and lifestyle habits are directly related. Physical inactivity, obesity, poor diet, alcohol consumption and smoking can lead to colorectal cancer and other cancers.

The most common and least invasive screening tool for colorectal cancer is the fecal occult blood test. This test can detect very small quantities of blood in the stool that are a result of large polyps that bleed into the intestine. The test kits are easy to use at home and then are mailed into the lab for processing. Another tool used for screening is a flexible lighted scope that can be used by a physician to examine the rectum and lower portion of the colon for the presence of polyps. If polyps are identified, the individual is referred for a colonoscopy, which is the best procedure for identifying and removing polyps for biopsy. A colonoscopy is the most effective for examining the entire colon, as well as for the removal of polyps during the procedure.

The Cancer Center at Flagstaff Medical Center is providing low-cost colorectal screening kits and information about colorectal cancer throughout the month of March. Individuals interested in receiving a colorectal screening kit or learning about colorectal cancer can stop by the Cancer Center Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The cost for processing the screening kit and having it reviewed by a physician is $10. The Cancer Center is located on FMC's West Campus, 1200 N. Beaver Street. For more information about this screening or other cancer-related questions, call the Cancer Center at 773-2261 or visit www.CancerCenteratFlagstaff.com.

Editor's note: Jeff Axtell, M.Ed., is the director of Oncology Services at the Cancer Center at Flagstaff Medical Center. Is there a health topic you'd like to know more about? Write to Mountain Medicine, c/o Flagstaff Medical Center, Public Relations, 1200 North Beaver Street, Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit www.FlagstaffMedicalCenter.com.

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