Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month: Let’s Talk Screening
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, dedicated to encouraging patients, survivors, and caregivers to share their stories, advocate for colorectal cancer prevention, and inform others about the importance of early detection.
Colorectal cancer is cancer that forms in the colon or rectum, 2 areas of the digestive system that help remove solid waste from the body. It is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the U.S. (American Cancer Society, n.d.). While it’s a common cancer, colorectal cancer rates have gone down as more people have routine colorectal cancer screenings. Some of these screening tests, like colonoscopies, let doctors remove polyps (abnormal growths) before they can develop into cancer.
To catch colorectal cancer early, when it is small, hasn’t spread, and might be easier to treat, the American Cancer Society recommends that people at average risk for colorectal cancer begin screening at 45 years old.
The Importance of Colorectal Cancer Screening
Screening can prevent colorectal cancer through the detection and removal of polyps. It can also detect cancer at an early stage, when the cancer may be more easily treated. The colorectal cancer death rate has dropped by 55% from 1970 to 2018 (American Cancer Society, 2021), mostly due to earlier detection through screening and improvements in treatment.
While there have been great advancements in early detection, studies show rates of colorectal cancer among people younger than 50 are on the rise. As such, the American Cancer Society recommends that people at average risk for colorectal cancer begin screening at age 45. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent panel of medical experts, has announced its intent to recommend colorectal cancer screenings for people beginning at 45 years old. Once finalized, this means that people age 45 and older will, in most cases, be eligible for insurance reimbursement for colorectal cancer screening.
Having a family history or an inherited genetic condition of colorectal cancer affects the age you should begin screening, the type of screening you receive, and how often you are screened. People who think or know they are at higher risk for colorectal cancer should talk to their doctor about starting screenings before age 45. Read the Cancer Support Community’s letter to USPSTF supporting this recommendation.
You can drastically reduce your risk of colorectal cancer by:
talking to your doctor
understanding your health history
taking preventative measures such as improving your diet and exercising
getting screened early
Impact of COVID-19 on Screening
Routine screening can prevent colorectal cancer. However, recent studies found that the number of colorectal screening tests dropped by 86% due to concerns about COVID-19 (Printz, 2020). The National Cancer Institute predicts almost 10,000 more deaths in the U.S. from breast and colorectal cancer alone over the next 10 years because of pandemic-related delays in cancer screening and treatment (Sharpless, 2020).
CSC urges people to talk with their doctors to resume recommended cancer screenings, like colonoscopies, and cancer treatment to decrease the negative impact the pandemic is having on early detection of cancer and treating those living with cancer.
Colorectal Cancer Resources and Support
If you are living with colorectal cancer or are a caregiver to someone with colorectal cancer, the Cancer Support Community offers a variety of resources to help ease the burden of your journey.
Visit our colorectal cancer page for more information about the disease, including risk factors, testing, different treatment options, and how to cope. On this page you can also find our Frankly Speaking About Cancer Library, which includes publications and videos.
American Cancer Society. (n.d.). About Colorectal Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/about.html.
American Cancer Society. (2021). Cancer Facts & Figures 2021. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/research/cancer-facts-and-statistics/annual-cancer-facts-and-figures/2021/cancer-facts-and-figures-2021.pdf.
Colorectal Cancer Alliance. (n.d.). Family History and Hereditary Colorectal Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.ccalliance.org/screening-prevention/family-history.
Printz, C. (2020). Cancer Screenings Decline Significantly During Pandemic. Cancer. Retrieved from https://acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/cncr.33128.
Sharpless, N. (2020). COVID-19 and Cancer. Science. Retrieved from https://science.sciencemag.org/content/368/6497/1290.