American Cancer Society

Texas’ second-leading cause of death is largely preventable

by Allison Hatfield | March 4, 2020

A lot of things are bigger in Texas. That’s true. But the number of colorectal cancer screenings isn’t one of them. In fact, Texas ranks 48th in the nation for the potentially life-saving procedure.

March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month, and the American Cancer Society (ACA) is reminding all adults to get screened for colorectal cancer starting no later than age 45 — that age was lowered from 50 in 2018. Adults in good health should continue regular screenings through age 75.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death in Texas, but it’s highly treatable if found early. Half of all colon cancer deaths in the United States can be prevented if everyone followed recommended screening guidelines, according to the ACA.

As a recent NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth reporter wonders “If you could save your own life, would you do it?”

How colorectal cancer grows

Nearly all colorectal cancers start as growths called polyps, which are small clumps of cells that form on the lining of the colon or rectum. Most polyps are harmless, but some are not. Anyone can develop colon polyps, but risk factors include being age 50 or older, being overweight, smoking, or having a personal or family history of colon polyps or colon cancer. Colon polyps often don’t cause symptoms, so if you have one or more, you’re not likely to know.

If a polyp does become cancer, the stage of the cancer depends on how deeply it has grown into the lining of the colon or rectum and whether it has spread outside the area.

How to get screened

You could have colorectal cancer and not know it, which is why regular screening is important. Screening often finds cancer early, and early detection saves lives. There are several options for a colorectal cancer screening.

  • Stool-based tests (aka poop in a box):
    • Fecal immunochemical test every year
    • Highly sensitive guaiac-based fecal occult blood test every year
    • Multitargeted stool DNA test every three years
  • Visual exams:
    • Colonoscopy every 10 years
    • CT colonography every five years
    • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years

Stool-based tests are not the best option for everyone. They are recommended for people with no personal history of precancerous polyps, no colorectal cancer in the family, and no other risk factors. If you choose one of the tests in the first list and get abnormal results, you should get a colonoscopy as soon as possible to rule out cancer.

How to prevent colorectal cancer

Regular screenings help prevent cancer by allowing a physician to find and remove polyps before they have a chance to grow large, but ACA researchers say that most colorectal cancers are preventable with common-sense lifestyle changes.

Embrace the following for good overall health and to reduce your risk of the disease:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Stop smoking if you smoke.
  • Avoid heavy drinking.
  • Limit red meat and processed meat.
  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • Get lots of fiber.

For more information, Baylor offers a free colorectal cancer prevention and treatment guide.                                                                

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