March is designated National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month to raise recognition of awareness for the need for early detection and diagnosis of this very preventable disease. Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer for both men and women and represents the third-highest cause of death among all cancers. Colorectal cancer usually develops slowly within the colon or rectum and begins as a non-cancerous polyp which may change into a cancerous polyp.
Some risk factors associated with colorectal cancer are associated with lifestyle habits such as poor diet, drinking alcohol, physical inactivity and being overweight. These are all personal habits that a person can choose to modify. Other risk factors that contribute to colorectal cancer that cannot be controlled include being over 50 years old and having an immediate relative (parent, sibling) with the disease. Individuals who may have a personal history of colorectal polyps or chronic inflammatory bowel disease also are at risk for developing colorectal cancer.
Coconino County has the eighth-highest incidence rate for colorectal cancer in Arizona with the majority of these cases diagnosed as late-stage disease. Once the cancer has spread to this stage, the ability to effectively treat the cancer is diminished and the long-term survival rates are reduced by more than 80 percent. Fortunately, the number of deaths associated with colorectal cancer is declining. This partially is due to more people seeking early screening as well as the removal of colon polyps before they can develop into cancer.
Colorectal cancer screening is recommended for men and women over the age of 50 or those who have a family history of the disease or associated risk factors as previously mentioned. Early detection for colorectal cancer is the cornerstone of preventing the disease. The most common and least-invasive screening tool for colorectal cancer is the fecal-occult blood test. This test can detect very small quantities of blood in the stool which are a result of cancer or large polyps that bleed into the intestine. The test kits are easy to use at home and are then mailed into the lab for processing.
The Cancer Center of Northern Arizona Healthcare - Flagstaff campus is offering low-cost screening kits and lab results, as well as information about colorectal cancer throughout the month of March.
Individuals interested in the take-home screening kit can stop by the Cancer Center from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, to pick up the screening kit and learn more about colorectal cancer. The cost for processing and reviewing the screenings kit by a physician is $10. The Cancer Center is located on FMC’s West Campus, 1200 N. Beaver Street. For more information about this screening or other cancer-related questions, call the Cancer Center at 773-2261 or visit CCNAH.com.
Jeff Axtell, M.Ed., is the director of the Cancer Center of Northern Arizona Healthcare.