Colorectal cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the US, and it is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths. The risk of developing colorectal cancer increases with age; more than 90% of cases occur in people aged 50 years or older. If everyone were screened regularly beginning at age 50, as many as 60% of deaths from this cancer could be avoided, since screening tests can find and remove precancerous polyps before they become malignant. And if colorectal cancer is detected early, treatment is more likely to be of benefit.
Leading national organizations, including the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Cancer Society, and the National Cancer Institute, recommend regular colorectal cancer screening tests beginning at age 50. People who have had colorectal polyps, colorectal cancer, or inflammatory bowel disease, or who have close relatives with colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer, may need to begin colorectal cancer screening before age 50 and be screened more frequently. The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that all people be screened regularly for colorectal cancer until they reach 75 years of age, and in certain cases should continue to be screened beyond age 75. Screening tests recommended by the USPSTF include:
• Colonoscopy (every 10 years)
• High-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT) (every year)
• Flexible sigmoidoscopy (every 5 years)
In addition to these tests, some groups also recommend the double contrast barium enema as a screening test (every 5 years). Other tests currently being evaluated for use in colorectal cancer screening include CT colonography (or “virtual colonoscopy”) and stool DNA testing.
The Colon Cancer Alliance (CCA; www.ccalliance.org), the oldest and largest national patient advocacy organization dedicated to ending suffering caused by colorectal cancer, has a variety of initiatives to increase colorectal cancer screening rates and increase survivorship. To mark Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month 2011, it offers Screen My Colon! a 30-second animated public service video highlighting how important it is for people to know their family history and individual risk of colon cancer.
To further its educational goals and shape its programs, the CCA conducted the Colonoscopy Perceptions Survey in the fall of 2010. (Results are summarized here: http://www.ccalliance.org/pdf/ColonoscopyPerceptionsSurvey-ReportSummary.pdf.)
In partnership with Salix Pharmaceuticals, for 2011 the CCA offers a free downloadable educational resource, Colonoscopy For Dummies, to demystify and address common misconceptions about the colonoscopy process.