Happy 50th, now go get screened
Unless you have had reason to be inducted to the ranks of colonoscopy veterans at an early age, most adults don’t worry about such things until their 50th birthday. What a great way to start the second half century of life! There is very little that is pleasant about the procedure other than to experience the relief of concluding it and being told you are OK. However, improvements in non-invasive testing may change that birthday milestone into something more to celebrate.
First, though, let’s see why testing is even necessary.
Let’s begin with the fact that Maine and New Hampshire have among the oldest populations in the nation and that colorectal cancer strikes most often among those over 50 years of age.
Colon cancer is a stealthy killer for which symptoms may not be apparent until the cancer has spread or moved into other parts of the body. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that there are
- more than 136,000 new cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed annually
- nine out of ten people diagnosed with colorectal cancer are over age 50
- one in twenty people will have colorectal cancer in their lifetime
- it is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among adults in the United States
- it will likely claim more than 50,000 lives in 2014
- the death rate per 100,000 people has been dropping over the last 20 years due to screening
Though a colonoscopy is considered the most visually definitive examination of the lower digestive system, strides have been made in accurate non-invasive testing for the presence of cancer. Sadly, only half of adults choose to be screened for colorectal cancer even though early detection vastly improves the potential for treatment and a positive outcome. Because of early detection, there are now over one million colorectal cancer survivors in the United States.
The good news is that an inexpensive and highly accurate test is available called the F.I.T. or fecal immunochemical test. For less than $20, FITs catch about 79% of colon cancers with about 90 percent accuracy. That is a large statistical improvement over older non-invasive screening tests.
The ACS published results of a study comparing the long-standing fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) to the newer FIT. They concluded, “While gFOBT has been used widely for many years, clinically false-positive results are common. Infections, hemorrhoids, and even a red meat diet may all result in a positive test, causing patients unwarranted anxiety about cancer and leading to unnecessary follow-up tests.”
One of the benefits of the FIT is that it does not require any dietary changes prior to screening. The other benefit is that because of the non-invasive and low-cost nature of the test, more people, if made aware, likely will be tested.
If a FIT comes back positive, then it’s off-you-go for a colonoscopy to get up close and personal with what may be ailing you.
Is there anything that can lessen the likelihood of colorectal cancer? In an Article in the Bangor Daily News, Cheryl Tucker, state vice president of health initiatives for the American Cancer Society said 75-85 percent of all cancer diagnoses stem from preventable risk factors such as smoking, diet, exercise, obesity and sun exposure.
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), data indicates that a diet of whole grain, plant-based foods are better for us than highly processed and fatty foods. The AICR regularly updates their list of foods that are less likely to aid the growth of cancer.
A more aggressive stand on dietary influence on cancer has been taken in the Spring 2013 Journal of Kaiser Permanente, our nation’s largest healthcare provider— entitled “Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets.”
“Healthy eating may be best achieved with a plant-based diet, which we define as a regimen that encourages whole, plant-based foods and discourages meats, dairy products, and eggs as well as all refined and processed foods.”
There is much yet to be learned but the data is clear that screening and healthy lifestyle choices can catch cancer before it catches us.