Screening Saves Lives: Get Screened For Colon Cancer
“Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the United States and the second leading cause of death from cancers that affect both men and women,” according to Michele Bever, executive director for South Heartland District Health Department (SHDHD). “Colorectal cancer affects all racial and ethnic groups and is most often found in people age 50 and older,” she said.
“But there is good news,” said Bever. “Screening for colorectal cancer saves lives. If everyone age 50 and older was screened regularly, 6 out of 10 deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented.”
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and the South Heartland District Health Department and the South Heartland Cancer Coalition are spreading the message throughout South Central Nebraska that all residents age 50 – 75 should get screened for colorectal cancer and continue a lifetime pattern of screening at recommended times.
Screenings help find precancerous polyps (growths that are not normal) so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening helps find colorectal cancer early when treatment can be very effective.
Dorrann Hultman, public health nurse at SHDHD, explained that “polyps or cancer in the colon or rectum don’t always cause symptoms so, without screening, changes may be taking place that you don’t know about. However, things like blood in or on your stool, stomach pain, aches, cramps that don’t go away or losing weight without knowing why may indicate problems with the colon and should be checked by your medical provider.”
The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends regular screening, using high-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing (FOBT), sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy beginning at age 50 and continuing until age 75 years.
“The FOBT is an easy at home test where you collect small stool samples on a card and send to a lab,” said Hultman. “This screening should be done once a year.”
Sigmoidoscopy is a procedure done by the doctor who looks for polyps or cancer in the rectum and lower third of the colon. It is done every 5 years. If positive results are found on either FOBT or Sigmoidoscopy, then colonoscopy should be done.
Colonoscopy is a procedure done by the doctor that looks for polyps or cancer in the rectum and the entire colon. Colonoscopy is done every 10 years or as advised by your medical provider.
Hultman says that “you should decide which screening method is best for you – but remember that the best screening method is the one that gets done!” She suggests that you talk with your medical provider about the benefits and risks of each screening option as well as your family history, personal risk factors and preferences to help determine which screening test is best for you. If you have certain risk factors, you may need to start screening before age 50 and be tested more often than other people.
Most insurance plans, including Medicare, help pay for colorectal cancer screening. Check with your health insurance provider for your colorectal cancer screening benefits.
Hultman offers several steps you can take to lower your risk:
- Get screened if you are 50 or older.
- Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains from breads, cereals, nuts, and beans.
- Eat a low-fat diet.
- Eat foods with folate such as leafy green vegetables. A daily multivitamin containing 0.4 milligrams of folic acid may also be helpful.
- If you use alcohol, drink only in moderation.
- If you use tobacco, quit. If you don’t use tobacco, don’t start.
- Exercise for at least 20 minutes three to four days each week. Moderate exercise such as walking, gardening, or climbing steps may help reduce your risk.
During National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March, South Heartland District Health Department and South Heartland Cancer Coalition are offering free FOBT kits to complete at home. To get your FREE screening kit, stop by the South Heartland District Health Department at 606 N. Minnesota, Suite 2, Hastings, NE, or call us at 402-462-6211 (toll free at 1-877-238-7595). Kits will also be available in pharmacies in Clay, Nuckolls and Webster Counties, at Vital Signs Health Fair and other local health fairs.
Hultman urges, “Don’t put it off, make a commitment today to get screened for colorectal cancer and take measures to lower your risk!”
For more information on colorectal cancer, visit The Nebraska Colon Cancer Screening Program website (http://dhhs.ne.gov/PublicHealth/NCP/Pages/Home.aspx). A personal risk assessment tool is available at (www.cancer.gov/colorectalcancerrisk/).
Michele M. Bever, PhD, MPH
South Heartland District Health Department
606 N. Minnesota Ave, Suite 2
Hastings, NE 68901