Sutter Solano Medical Center
Colorectal Cancer Update: Incidence Lowering as Screening Rises
By Chainarong Limvarapuss, M.D., a board-certified hematologist/oncologist at Sutter Solano Cancer Center.
Colorectal cancer (colon and rectum cancer) is the third leading cause of death among men and fourth leading cause among women in the U.S., but as screening has become more widespread, its incidence is falling, as are the number of people who die from it. Getting a colonoscopy, which allows for the removal of polyps before they become cancerous, is not high on most people’s lists of things to do, but this procedure is definitely saving lives.
These statistics, from the National Cancer Institute, clearly illustrate the value of early detection:
- New cases of colon cancer diagnosed in 2010: 102,900
- Deaths from colon cancer in 2010: 51,370
- Survival rate when cancer is treated early: 90 percent
- Number of colon cancers found early: 40 percent
To put things even more bluntly: People diagnosed with Stage 1 colorectal cancer have a 93 percent cure rate, but cure rates decrease as the stage of the disease increases. A diagnosis at Stage 2 comes with a cure rate of 75 percent, while the Stage 3 rate can also be 75 percent with chemotherapy, but it’s 50 percent without it. Unfortunately, those diagnosed at Stage 4 are not curable, and their life expectancy is typically from 20 to 24 months.
We don’t know what causes colorectal cancer, but we do know that some people are more likely to get it than others. A diet high in fat, family history of colorectal cancer and polyps, presence of polyps in the large intestine, and inflammatory bowel disease are all factors that increase a person’s risk.
Some who fall in the high-risk category may require screening before the commonly prescribed age of 50. A “clean” colonoscopy will usually mean the next one doesn’t need to be done for 10 years, while those that result in finding polyps will typically require more frequent follow-up.
Screening is of utmost importance because colon cancer’s symptoms are numerous and non-specific, ranging from fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, cramps, and bloating to weight loss, change in bowel habits, narrow stools, diarrhea or constipation, and red or dark blood in stool. Colon cancer can be present for years before any symptoms develop.
The treatment for colon cancer will vary depending on its stage at diagnosis, but it often includes surgery as well as chemotherapy and/or radiation treatments. The standard treatment today for Stage 3 patients is a combination of three chemotherapy drugs, while Stage 4 patients are treated with a combination of a biological agent and chemotherapy.
Solano County is certainly not immune to colorectal cancer, as the latest statistics (from 2005) report almost 500 diagnosed cases. Fortunately, residents have access to the latest screening, diagnosis and treatment modalities right in their own backyard, including the Sutter Solano Cancer Center, which has been accredited by the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons.