No debate — colon cancer testing saves lives

You have probably heard the debates about the value of early detection testing for some cancers such as prostate cancer. But for colon cancer (formally called colorectal cancer), there is no debate – colon cancer testing saves lives. Colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer for both men and women in America, yet it is preventable, treatable and beatable.

The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 102,480 new cases of colon cancer in 2013, expecting to cause about 50,830 deaths. About half of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented in the U.S. each year if everyone, age 50 and older, got screened for colon cancer. More than 90 percent of cases are diagnosed in individuals 50 and older.

The death rate (the number of deaths per 100,000 people per year) from colorectal cancer has been dropping in both men and women for more than 20 years. There are a number of likely reasons for this. One is that polyps are being found by screening and removed before they can develop into cancers. Screening is also allowing more colorectal cancers to be found earlier when the disease is easier to cure. In addition, treatment for colorectal cancer has improved over the last several years. As a result, there are now more than 1 million survivors of colorectal cancer in the United States.

Testing for colon cancer can help your doctor find polyps that can be removed before they become cancerous or find colon cancer early, when it is highly treatable. Colon cancer almost always starts with a polyp – a small growth on the lining of the colon or rectum. If you are 50 or older, the American Cancer Society recommends you talk to your doctor about getting tested, even if you have no symptoms, and discuss which test is right for you. And if you have a family history of colon cancer, you may need to get tested earlier than age 50.

When colon cancer is detected at an early stage, the five-year survival rate is 91 percent; however, due in part to underuse of screening, only 39 percent of colon cancers are detected at this stage. Early colon cancer usually causes no symptoms and can be detected by available colon cancer screening tests. However, as colon cancer progresses, the disease may cause symptoms.

“The first symptom of colorectal cancer is no symptom. That is why screening is so important. If you are 50 or older or have a high risk for colon cancer, it should be a priority to get screened,” said Paula Stultz, ARNP at Trimark’s Gastroenterology Clinic. “The most important thing you can do to prevent colon cancer or find it early is to get tested. Talk to your doctor about when to start testing and which test is right for you. Getting tested for colon cancer could prevent it or find it early. Colon cancer is one of only two cancers that can actually be prevented through screening.”

While survival rates are improving and death rates declining, African Americans still have the highest death rate from colon cancer of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S. Because of lower screening rates, African Americans are less likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer in its earliest, most treatable stage.

“There are steps you can take every day to stay well and prevent colon cancer, including maintaining a healthy weight by being physically active and eating a well-balanced diet” Stultz said. “Make a point to learn your family’s history of colon cancer. You are at increased risk if you have a parent, sibling, or child who has been diagnosed with colorectal cancer or polyps, especially before age 60.”

To learn more about how to prevent colon cancer, call your American Cancer Society anytime, day or night, at (800) 227-2345 or visit The Healthy Living Department at Trinity Regional Medical Center also offers colon-rectal test kits at their community screenings throughout the Fort Dodge area.

The American Cancer Society is making progress against colon cancer, and is saving lives and helping create a world with less cancer and more birthdays. You can help “fight back” against cancer is by participating in the American Cancer Society Relay For Life of Webster County to be held at 6 p.m. June 21 at Dodger Stadium. Learn more at

Liddy Hora is American Cancer Society account manager, health care systems. For more information contact Hora at or 576-7975.