Understanding colorectal cancer: Tips for earlier detection and monitoring
Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Despite the fact that the disease causes so many deaths, if caught early, colorectal cancer is highly treatable.
There are several ways to prevent colorectal cancer, or raise the likelihood that your doctor will identify it sooner. Your lifetime risk for developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 20, but may be higher if you have risk factors for cancer development. These may include:
- Eating a diet high in red meats or processed meats
- Physical inactivity
- Obesity (very overweight)
- Using alcohol heavily
- Age 50 or older
- You have a history of colorectal polyps
- You have a history of inflammatory bowel disease
- You have a father, mother, or sibling that has had colorectal cancer
Detect colorectal cancer earlier
Prompt detection is a combination of patient awareness—that means paying close attention to your body and bringing any changes to your doctor’s attention—and proper screening. Here are some ways you can fight the cancer prevention battle more effectively:
- Know the symptoms and report changes: This includes changes in your bowel habits like diarrhea, constipation or a different consistency of your stools. Rectal bleeding or blood in the stools, abdominal pain, cramping, or the feeling that your bowels haven’t emptied completely should also be reported.
- Know your personal risk factors and make changes: Exercise, a healthy diet, losing weight and kicking tobacco and alcohol are all positive changes you can make to lower your cancer risk. If you don’t modify your life, stay proactive and know that your risk for cancers of many types is higher.
- Get screened: Starting at age 50, your doctor will probably recommend a regular colonoscopy. Colonoscopies use a flexible light to examine the rectum and colon. You’ll be asleep for the procedure and it’s usually quick and painless. If you have a significant family history of colon cancer or another risk factor, your doctor may recommend you start testing sooner. Colonoscopies are usually done every 10 years. Your doctor may also ask you to complete an occult stool test every year. This test is simple and looks for hidden blood that may be in the stool. Occult blood tests can be done at home and mailed back to the office for testing as well. If it’s positive, your doctor will contact you for additional testing if indicated.
Today, doctors are using many different tools to treat colorectal cancers in addition to the traditional chemotherapy and radiation. Medical advances have given patients more options beyond invasive biopsy procedures – which can be stressful and risky for patients – and imaging, which is not always an option. Patients and physicians are exploring testing alternatives like those developed by Trovagene that offer accurate and advanced non-invasive urine testing for detecting many cancers including colorectal cancer.
Advanced testing and monitoring options
Biopsy and imaging have been the leading cancer detectors– until now. Today, urine tests can monitor and detect changes in the cancer tumor’s DNA and help the patient’s medical team adjust treatment accordingly.
These urine tests provide a non-invasive option for monitoring. This means less blood work and fewer tumor biopsies for patients, without sacrificing the ability to monitor the cancer effectively. These tests can be used as frequently as necessary, allowing physicians to adapt or modify treatment plans to changes in their patient’s cancer as they happen.
The earlier colorectal cancer is identified the better your chance of successful treatment. About 90% of all stage 1 or local colorectal cancer patients live 5 years or more after diagnosis.