In our last post, we discussed rectal health and how you can take care of your gut to help prevent colorectal cancer. In today’s post, we are going to discuss why this is so important and review the trends of colorectal cancer.
Before we jump right into the changing trends in colorectal cancer, let’s first discuss a little about colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is, as its name implies, cancer that develops in the colon or the rectum. Colorectal cancer often begins as polyps in the bowel — adenoma. Colorectal cancer affects men and women almost evenly, as well as all ethnic groups and socioeconomic statuses. Colorectal cancer is more common as people age, being most common in those over 45, but is not exclusive to the elderly. While colorectal cancer is the 4th most common type of cancer diagnosed in the United States, it remains the 2nd deadliest.
Colorectal cancer tends to be more deadly than other types of cancers because the symptoms are less subtle, so the cancer is not often detected as early and by the time it is diagnosed, it has often metastasized (spread) to other areas of the body. 2018 statistics suggest that approximately 66% of those diagnosed with colorectal cancer survive beyond five years after diagnosis.
Armed with some general background information about colorectal cancer, let’s get back to the matter at hand — reviewing the current trends of colorectal cancer and what we can do to decrease the rates.
Food and Beverage Causes
It is not clear to researchers, yet, what causes colorectal cancer. There does not seem to be a clear genetic link, but there does seem to be a strong correlation between diet and colorectal cancer incidence. Being overweight or obese, with low physical activity rates seems to put people at a disproportionate risk of developing colorectal cancer. Smoking and consuming alcohol are also contributing factors. Other diet items that place one at an increased risk of colorectal cancer include:
- Red meat including beef, pork, lamb, and liver
- Processed meats including hot dogs, bacon, and lunchmeat
- Fried and propane grilled foods expose one to chemicals that increase cancer risks
- Diets low in fiber
- Diets high in fat
- Preserved foods
- Foods containing pesticides and/or herbicides
The good news is, there are foods you can consume that help reduce your risk of colorectal cancer that include:
- Good quality fats such as olive oil, fish oil, avocado, and nuts
- High-fiber foods
- High-quality carbohydrates
- Vitamin C
- Coffee (even decaf)
Staying hydrated, consuming plenty of fiber, and maintaining a healthy weight is important to overall gut health and reducing your risk of colorectal cancer.
Enhanced Awareness and Diagnosis
One of the biggest, and best, contributors to the rise of colorectal cancer diagnosis is increased awareness and the diagnosis of colorectal cancer. For instance, in 2008, there were 148,810 instances of newly diagnosed colorectal cancer cases, and in 2019, it is estimated there will be about 141,000. While this number is decreasing slightly, the surprising news is that the rates for people under the age of 45 are on the rise. Additionally, colorectal cancer continues to cling to its ranking of number two on the list of deadliest cancers, with survival rates increasing by less than 2% in the last decade.
When we look at the hard numbers, it is encouraging to know that while the diagnosis rates for patients 45 and older have stayed steady, the survival rates have improved. On the other side of the coin, however, in patients under 45, diagnosis rates have also not changed much, but survival rates have declined. It is estimated that nearly 60% of colorectal cancer deaths could have been prevented with routine screening. With statistics like these, it may beg the question of how is this encouraging news? These numbers prove, without a doubt, that screening and early detection have reduced morbidity rates. Standard screening begins at age 45 with routine colonoscopies. For those diagnosed under the age of 45, nearly 60% of deaths could have been prevented had screening been conducted to catch the disease before it had progressed and metastasized.
Early diagnosis is the key to positive outcomes with any cancer. Because, as we discussed earlier, the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer in the early stages can be subtle, or embarrassing, most people delay evaluation and treatment. Access to reliable healthcare and medical insurance has helped to encourage more patients to have routine preventative screenings conducted, which is saving tens-of-thousands of lives. Programs including the Colorectal Cancer Control Program (CRCCP) and Screen For Life: National Colorectal Cancer Action Campaign have helped implement awareness education and screening nationwide.
Some statistics to ponder include:
- 1 in 20 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. However,
- 1 in 3 people are not up to date on recommended colorectal cancer screenings
Elongated Mortality Rates
As with any disease that is more likely to occur as we age, colorectal cancer rates will likely continue to remain relatively stable as long as the average lifespan increases. This is not to say that if we live long enough that each of us will develop cancer, but it does mean that with the average increase in age and the advancement in medical technology and treatment, while many diseases are treated and deaths prevented, it allows for other diseases to manifest. The long-term goal is to prevent what we can and treat what we can identify.
What Can Be Done to Reduce Colorectal Cancer Risk and Diagnosis?
With a better understanding of what colorectal cancer is and the things that contribute to its diagnosis, we can now begin the discussion of what can be done to reduce the rate of colorectal cancer risk and diagnosis.
The best medical treatment for any disease is prevention. We previously discussed the food and beverages that put people at an increased risk, so being aware of what you are consuming on an individual level, and avoiding the foods that increase your risk is a good start. As a society, demanding access to healthier food and beverages that reduce the risk of cancer is another movement that should be a priority.
As an individual, you can help bring awareness to people to help others understand the real threat posed by colorectal cancer and encourage others to schedule their screenings — and be sure to do so yourself. Education, awareness, and screening are vital to reducing the impact of cancer in general. Since you cannot asses yourself for colorectal cancer at home, it is important to have an honest discussion about your risk factors with your primary health provider and conduct screenings regularly.
Understanding your family history is another important piece of information. While there has not been a strong genetic link found, more than 25% of those who are diagnosed with colorectal cancer have a family member who was also diagnosed. This may be attributed to a hereditary link, but is more likely an element of environmental exposure.
Addressing medical concerns is an important element in preventing colorectal cancer, but also to your overall health and wellbeing. Chron’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), diabetes, and obesity are other medical conditions that contribute to the development of colorectal cancer. Effectively managing these diseases can help reduce your cancer risk.
Diagnosis and Treatment
As we have discussed, early diagnosis and effective treatment are the keys to reducing risk and improving mortality rates related to colorectal cancer. Begin by recognizing symptoms and being honest with your primary health provider about concerns. Common symptoms of colorectal cancer include:
- Change in bowel habits
- Blood in stool
- Stomach pain or cramping
- Unexplained weight loss
Regular screening for colorectal cancer should begin at 45 years of age, or sooner if you or a close relative has a history of colorectal cancer or rectal polyps; you have a history of Chron’s disease, IBS, or another cancer; or you have symptoms of colorectal cancer. Screening can be completed with a fecal test, colonoscopy, or medical imaging tests.
Early diagnosis can help treatment be more effective and reduce the incidence of metastasis. In stages 0-2, the cancer is well-contained, isolated, and much easier to manage. Once the rectum or colon has been perforated by cancer, it is much more likely to metastasize to other parts of the body and is much harder to isolate and treat. Colorectal cancer is treated with ablation, radiation, chemotherapy, and surgical removal of portions of the bowel. Diagnosis and treatment should not be delayed.
How HR Pharmaceuticals is Helping
At HR Pharmaceuticals, we are passionate about the health of people and being pioneers in the medical community. Our HR Lubricating Jelly is a water-based lubricating jelly that is used to perform rectal exams and colonoscopies in clinics and hospitals for the last 90 years. Our viscous, water-based lubricant helps to make invasive rectal procedures more comfortable and reduces trauma to the bowel during the exams. This makes the procedure safer and more comfortable for the patient and quicker for the medical professional conducting it. We use ingredients that do not influence test results, making it a reliable product to use in all laboratory and sample collection settings. We believe that making superior products help to encourage more people to engage in screenings to help reduce the morbidity rates of one of the deadliest cancers. We also believe in using our newsroom as a platform for educating people and raise awareness to help the fight against colorectal cancer.
For more information about colorectal cancer, visit these online resources:
Colorectal Cancer Alliance: https://www.ccalliance.org/
Fight Colorectal Cancer: https://fightcolorectalcancer.org/
American Cancer Society: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal/basic_info/screening/index.htm
World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/cancer/detection/colorectalcancer/en/