March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and Arizona Oncology, a practice in The US Oncology Network, would like to remind both men and women to speak with their healthcare providers about getting screened for the disease. By finding cancer—or polyps that may become cancer—early, it is easier to treat and possibly cure.
According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women combined. It is estimated that approximately 132,700 new cases will be diagnosed in the United States this year, and nearly 49,700 people will lose their lives to the disease.
“The number of deaths from colorectal cancer continues to decline because of screenings, which detect polyps before they become cancer,” says Arizona Oncology Medical Oncologist Michael Roberts, M.D. “We recommend anyone—men or women—age 50 and over receive screenings.”
In addition, Dr. Roberts and other oncologists at Arizona Oncology are examining patients who already have colorectal cancer for codons 12 and 13 of the KRAS gene through gene mutation testing, which predicts whether patients will respond to anti-epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) therapies. The KRAS gene is in the oncogenes class, and when mutated, oncogenes have the potential to cause normal cells to become cancerous.
Dr. Roberts agrees with experts that in order to continue treating colorectal cancer, expanded RAS testing is needed. RAS is the name given to a subfamily of related proteins found inside cells, which, when overactive in signaling, can lead to cancer.
Recommended Testing: Tests that find polyps and cancer
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years*
- Colonoscopy every 10 years
- Double-contrast barium enema every 5 years*
- CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years*
Tests that mainly find cancer:
- Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) every year*,**
- Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every year*,**
- Stool DNA test (sDNA), interval uncertain*
- *Colonoscopy should be done if test results are positive.
**For FOBT or FIT used as a screening test, the take-home multiple sample method should be used. An FOBT or FIT done during a digital rectal exam in the doctor’s office is not adequate for screening.
For people with certain risk factors, screening should begin earlier or be done more often. While the exact cause of colorectal cancer is unknown, factors increasing risk for the disease include:
- Age – chances of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer increase as a person gets older
- Family history – having close relatives with colorectal cancer increases a person’s risk of developing the disease
- Diet – diets high in fat and low in calcium, folate and fiber may increase the risk
- Ethnicity – Jews of Eastern European descent have a higher rate of colon cancer
- Genetic alterations – certain syndromes that involve family members having hundreds of polyps in their colon or rectum may make someone more likely to get colorectal cancer
- History of colorectal polyps – common in people over the age of 50, some growths on inner wall of colon or rectum can become cancerous
- Smoking – may increase risk of developing polyps and colorectal cancer
- Alcohol – heavy use of alcohol has been linked to the disease
- History of bowel disease – a disease called ulcerative colitis (Crohn’s colitis) increases the risk of colon cancer
- Lack of exercise – people who are not active have a higher risk of colorectal cancer
- Overweight – being very overweight increases a person’s risk
Having a first degree relative such as a parent, sibling or child with colon cancer approximately doubles your personal risk for colon cancer. If you have a family history of colon cancer or a personal history of colon polyps, your doctor may recommend more frequent colonoscopies. In addition, there are certain inherited genetic syndromes that can increase the risk of colon cancer and other cancers. Talk with family members, and if there are multiple family members with colon and/or endometrial cancer, especially at a younger age, you should meet with a genetic counselor for a cancer risk assessment and possible genetic testing. Knowing your family history can be life-saving.
Arizona Oncology plays a major role in helping people throughout the state and their families win their battle against colorectal cancer by providing easy access to a full range of advanced cancer care services in a setting that allows patients to remain close to their homes and their support network of family and friends.