3 Wishes in the Fight Against Colorectal Cancer

Through awareness and early detection, we can save lives.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and the Blue Star represents the continued fight against the sickness.

It’s a unifying symbol for a community of survivors, caregivers, advocates and champions like Fight Colorectal Cancer (Fight CRC), the Mayo Clinic, UPS, Exact Sciences, American Cancer Society, the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable and others joining forces for the national awareness campaign: “80% in Every Community.”

Our work is important because colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. for men and women combined. Yet this cancer is preventable.

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In fact, if caught at its earliest stage, there’s a 90 percent five-year survival rate.

Hope on the horizon

PGA TOUR pro golfer Tom Lehman detected early his stage 1 colorectal cancer more than 20 years ago.

Today, he isn’t just a golf champion but also a screening champion for colorectal cancer. He’s alive because he didn’t hesitate to talk to his doctor.

According to the American Cancer Society, the death rate from colorectal cancer has dropped in both men and women for several decades. That’s great news. There are a number of likely reasons.

Screening today more often finds colorectal polyps, resulting in removal before they can develop into cancers — and earlier treatment of the disease. In addition, treatment for colorectal cancer has improved during the last few decades.

The bad news? Although the overall death rate continues to drop, deaths from colorectal cancer among people younger than age 55 increased 1 percent per year from 2007 to 2016.

As we look to the Blue Star throughout March, here are three wishes we’re making at Fight Colorectal Cancer:

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Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.

Talk to your doctor.

It’s difficult to catch cancer early — when the disease is most treatable and beatable.

Luckily, colorectal cancer is one of the few exceptions. In fact, more than 60 percent of colorectal cancer cases are preventable with early screening.

Screenings for colon cancer and rectal cancer look for colon polyps and rectal polyps, which are small growths that, if removed, eliminate a cancer risk — two-thirds of all polyps doctors find are considered precancerous.

Patients have multiple choices for screenings. Many know about the colonoscopy, which can find and remove polyps during a single procedure.

One non-invasive option, Exact Sciences’ Cologuard®, taps into the rising trend of patient control and home care by allowing the patient to provide a stool sample in the privacy of their home and arrange for a pickup for delivery to the test lab.

Approved by the FDA in 2014, Cologuard remains the only stool DNA-based, non-invasive colorectal cancer screening test on the market.

The first step is talking to your doctor. Your family history of polyps, colorectal cancer or inflammatory bowel disease will determine the test best for you.

Talk with your family.

Does colon cancer or rectal cancer or colon polyps run in our family?

While many see this as an uncomfortable, taboo topic, it’s actually a life-saving conversation.

We know that 25 percent of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer have a family history.

The risk of colorectal cancer is more than tripled if a family member was diagnosed age 50 or younger and doubled if a family member was diagnosed between ages 50 to 59.

A family history of colorectal cancer (meaning a first-degree relative was diagnosed with colon polyps or colorectal cancer) bumps you from “average risk” to “increased risk.”

So, if this describes your family, you may need more frequent and earlier screenings.

Share your stories.

We hope people talk about colorectal cancer and getting screened. And if you’ve been screened or you’re a survivor, share your story!

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Colorectal cancer does not discriminate — it can happen to anyone.

People avoid screening because they haven’t heard the stories of survivors — the disease doesn’t seem real to them. An estimated 140,250 people will be diagnosed in 2019.

Colorectal cancer does not discriminate — it can happen to anyone.

As Tom Lehman says, “It’s the things you don’t know that can be devastating. It’s easy to ignore it. It’s easy to say, ‘I don’t know much about it. It’s not really there.’ But you can’t push things aside. Once you’re aware of how common this type of cancer is, you understand the decision to do nothing could be devastating.”

No matter what you do this March, remember: A simple conversation can save a life.

For education, information and stories about colorectal cancer screening, visit FightCRC.org.

Anjelica Davis is the president of Fight Colorectal Cancer, a national nonprofit founded in 2005. For more than a decade, she has focused her work on colorectal cancer research, education and awareness.

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