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Cancer Awareness

Colorectal Cancer Awareness

Colorectal cancer screening is the most powerful weapon against colorectal cancer. If you’re age 45 or over, it may be time for a gut check.

Most colorectal cancers develop from precancerous polyps. Regular screening helps prevent colorectal cancer by finding and removing certain types of polyps before they turn into cancer. Screening can also help detect colorectal cancer early, when it’s small, hasn’t spread and is easier to treat.

For decades, colorectal cancer was most often diagnosed in people age 50 and over. More recent study data show the incidence of colorectal cancer declining in people 50 and over and dramatically increasing in younger people. Between 1994 to 2014, there was a 51% increase in colorectal cancer rates among adults younger than 55. While the overall survival rate continues to increase, deaths from colorectal cancer in people younger than 55 have increased by 1% each year from 2007 to 2016.

Are you ready for a gut check? Take one of these actions now:

Bench to Bedside: Colon cancer and screening

Take a unique tour of a bigger-than-life-sized version the human colon on a guided tour.

Speaker 1: Welcome to Bench to Bedside, a weekly series of live conversations about recent advances in cancer from the research bench to treatment at the patient's bedside. And now, your host and the Director of the University of Kansas Cancer Center, Dr. Roy Jensen.

Roy Jensen: Welcome, and good morning to Bench to Bedside. Today with me is Dr. John Ashcraft, who is a colon and rectal surgeon at the University of Kansas Cancer Center. Also joining us this morning is Dr. Dan Dixon, who is the Co-Leader of our Cancer Prevention and Survivorship program. We're live inside the inflatable colon. Dr. Dixon, can you walk us through the colon and tell us what you're seeing here?

Dan Dixon: Sure. Welcome to our inflatable colon. This is used to illustrate to patients what they might be seeing, or what their doctor might be seeing when they undergo a colonoscopy. In the majority of people that get a colonoscopy, what'll be observed is normal colon tissue. It'll be smooth and pink and have a shiny appearance to it. But in about 30% of people, what the gastroenterologist will see will be a polyp. Now, these polyps, even though they're not cancer as we think of cancers, they're a precursor to cancer. So typically what'll happen is the gastroenterologist will cut this out and a cancer will not be able to form from that. Now, if that's left alone over a period of years what can happen is, it can develop into a malignant polyp. This malignant polyp usually will be larger and will have blood vessels in it, also. And if that's left unchecked, over time this can turn into colon cancer. Really, the goal in colon cancer prevention is to try to take out the precursors, the polyps, before they can turn into a colon cancer or an advanced colon cancer, which can spread to the liver, and that's where people become very sick and can die from this disease. Another thing that your gastroenterologist might detect is that, if you have a disease called inflammatory bowel disease, and one part of inflammatory bowel disease illustrated here is Crohn's disease, is where inflammation is occurring in the colon. This actually puts a person at a higher risk for developing colon cancer. So all these things together allow your doctor to tell you whether or not you're going to be at high risk and to really remove the things that are going to develop into colon cancer before they get to that stage.

Roy Jensen: If you're just joining us, we've been inside an inflatable colon talking about colorectal cancer and how screening can help prevent the disease. Pauline Horton is here, as always, to take your questions. And remember to share this link with people you think might benefit from our discussion. Use the #BenchToBedside. Dr. Dixon, thank you very much for taking us on the tour of the inflatable colon this morning. And now joining me is Dr. John Ashcraft, who again is a colon and rectal surgeon here at the cancer center. Dr. Ashcraft, why should people care about colorectal cancer screening?

John Ashcraft: Roy, you know as well as I do, it's an important cancer in our world, especially in the United States of America. One in 20 people will get colorectal cancer, if we look at a lifelong risk factor. What we see is that it's the third leading cause of colon-related deaths in the United States, and what we believe, through careful screening like Dr. Dixon just described, is that we can save 60% of these patients from colon-related deaths if we can do the colonoscopy in a timely manner.

Roy Jensen: So, what you're saying is that many colorectal cancers are preventable?

John Ashcraft: I think so. The technique that we use is a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy like Dan showed is to get in there and get those polyps out, get them out before they turn into that pre-malignant stage or that malignant stage. And if, God forbid, you do have a colon cancer, to catch it early so that we can cure the patient with a surgery.

Roy Jensen: Very good.

John Ashcraft: What we're seeing is that the rates of colon cancer deaths are decreasing across the country, and we strongly believe that's related to screening.

Roy Jensen: So, if you're just joining us, we're talking with Dr. John Ashcraft, who's a surgical oncologist and surgeon for the colon and rectum about cancer screening, and the fact that there are certain disease signs and symptoms to be aware of. So Dr. Ashcraft, maybe we could talk about that a little more. What are the recommendations for screening, and what are some of the signs and symptoms of this disease?

John Ashcraft: Sure. Screening, we typically for most usual patients, will start at 50 years of age. If you have a risk factor like a strong family history or you have inflammatory bowel disease, or even a genetic condition, you may have to be screened earlier. We know that. Patients that need to be screened or that have a higher risk are patients who have a history of adenomatous polyps, patients who have a history of colon and rectal cancer, themselves, patients who have inflammatory bowel disease like Dr. Dixon said, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, those patients are at higher risk. And we can forget the patients who have genetic history that they know of, like our Lynch Syndrome patients and familial adenomatous polyposis patients.

Roy Jensen: So, what are some of the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer?

John Ashcraft: Sure. The risk factors that we see, or the signs that we see, can sometimes be very vague. It can be diarrhea, it can be constipation, it can be bright red blood in your bowel movements, or even dark black bowel movements if it's on the beginning side of the colon. Other things we'll see is bloating, unintentional weight loss, and abdominal pain. These symptoms, although they might come with a typical gastroenteritis, or somebody might have a stomach bug, but these are symptoms that are going to last beyond days. If you see those symptoms, you really should seek your medical provider.

Roy Jensen: All right. Pauline Horton is here to take your questions, so please make sure that, if you have any questions, to put those online, and we will answer them throughout the course of the day. So, our live broadcast is now ending, but we want to encourage you to again continue this conversation, and we're always happy to interact with you on Facebook. I want to thank our guests this morning, Dr. Ashcraft and Dr. Dixon, and also our inflatable colon, which was courtesy of Prevent Colorectal Cancer Group. Please join us next week when we will be broadcasting live from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. Thank you. That's all.

Colorectal cancer facts

  • Colon cancer screening saves lives. Because of the increased incidence of colorectal cancer in younger adults, the American Cancer Society recommends people who are age 45, and at average risk, have regular colon cancer screening. This can include 1 of 6 different tests, either stool-based or visual examination, such as:

    • Fecal immunochemical test, or FIT, yearly
    • Fecal occult blood test, or FOBT, yearly
    • Stool DNA test, every 3 years
    • Colonoscopy every 10 years
    • CT colonography, or virtual colonoscopy, every 5 years
    • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years

    Your physician may suggest a different schedule based on your specific risk. If you are at increased risk for developing colorectal cancer, talk to your physician to assess your risk and determine a screening schedule.

  • Some of us are at higher risk for cancer than others. By knowing which members of your family have had certain cancers and the ages at which they were diagnosed, our genetic experts are able to better define your risk and the risk of your family.

    Lynch syndrome is a hereditary condition that makes people more susceptible to several cancers, including cancer of the colon, uterus, ovary, stomach, small intestine, bile duct, upper urinary tract, brain and skin.

    We provide a high-risk gastrointestinal clinic for patients with Lynch syndrome or other gastrointestinal conditions. This clinic focuses on primary prevention methods, like colonoscopy or gynecologic screening, formulating surveillance plans and referrals for surgical intervention, if needed.

    1 in 22 men and 1 in 24 women will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

    Overall, the lifetime risk for developing colorectal cancer is a little less than 1 in 22 (4.5%). This risk is slightly lower for women than for men.

    Experts recommend routine colon cancer testing for everyone age 45 and older who has an average risk for the disease. If you are in a higher risk group, you may need testing sooner.

    Talk to your physician about when you should be tested. If you have questions or want to request a screening, call 913-588-1227.

  • Don't rely on hindsight. Now is the perfect time to get behind colon cancer awareness. Share the facts and risk factors associated with the disease. Take a proactive approach to improve your odds.

    • Get screened starting at age 45 (or before if you have other risk factors).
    • Seek genetic counseling if you have a strong family history.
    • Maintain a healthy diet and weight.
    • Get active.
    • Stop smoking (or never start).
    • Reduce alcohol use.

    Did you know that eating a diet rich in fiber provides a wealth of health benefits? It can help you maintain a healthy weight and help prevent colon cancer.

Colorectal cancer warning signs

  • Bowel changes (diarrhea, constipation, narrowing of the stool) that last for more than a few days
  • Urge/pressure to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so
  • Blood in the stool, dark stools or rectal bleeding
  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Unintentional weight loss

These symptoms may indicate health problems besides colorectal cancer that may also require treatment from your physician.

Colorectal cancer risk factors

  • Age 45 or over
  • Personal history of adenomatous polyps in the colon or previous colorectal cancer diagnosis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Family history of colorectal cancer
  • Inherited syndromes, such as Lynch syndrome, that are linked to colorectal cancer
  • African American or Jewish with Eastern European descent

Lifestyle risk factors
Several lifestyle-related factors have been linked to colorectal cancer, including:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Diet high in red or processed meats
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol use

Colorectal cancer resources

Colorectal cancer research

The University of Kansas Cancer Center seeks to accelerate cancer prevention, discovery and care to save and improve lives with leading-edge, interdisciplinary cancer research. Learn more about some of our latest research.

Colorectal cancer patient Matthew Brueseke.

A+ cancer care

Matthew Brueseke didn't know he carried a genetic mutation that resulted in Lynch syndrome, a condition that put him at higher risk for colorectal cancer.
Matt's story

Related links