Thursday, March 1, 2018

AAHI in the News: Colorectal Cancer Prevention

Reaching the half-century mark is worth celebrating! As you look back on your 50 years of hopes and dreams, it is also important to take responsibility for your health. Did you know that cancer is the leading cause of death among Asian Americans? Among the different types of cancer, colorectal cancer is the third highest cause of cancer-related deaths within the Asian American community, but it does not have to be.

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Cancer Institute strongly recommend people over 50 to be regularly screened for colorectal cancer. As we get older, the risk of getting colorectal cancer gets higher. Research has shown that over 90% of colorectal cancer cases happen to people over 50. Colorectal cancer is preventable. Yet, less than 50% of Asian Americans are screened. Asian Americans are also less likely than non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks to get colorectal preventive care.

Colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer, is a disease that occurs in the colon or rectum. Cells sometimes grow uncontrollably in the colon or rectum and these growths form what is known as a polyp. Over time the polyps may become cancerous.

Colorectal cancer does not always have symptoms at the beginning. It is possible to have polyps or cancer without knowing. Therefore, it is important to perform regular screening for colorectal cancer.

According to the CDC, some symptoms may include:
  • Blood in or on the stool 
  • Constant stomach pain and cramps 
  • Losing weight for no reason 
Although some risk factors causing colorectal cancer are uncontrollable, such as personal and family history and age, other lifestyle related risk factors may also contribute to the increased risk of colorectal cancer. These include alcohol consumption, tobacco use, obesity, low-fiber diet, and lack of regular physical activity. People with hereditary health conditions have a greater possibility of getting colorectal cancer. Those with a history of inflammatory bowel disease may put you at increased risk of developing colorectal cancer as well.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle and being screened regularly is the first step in colorectal cancer prevention. It is extremely likely that cells growing uncontrollably will develop into colorectal cancer. Thus, undergoing screening tests can help identify these growths early and the polyps can be removed before they turn cancerous. Early detection and treatment often leads to a cure. Deaths from colorectal cancer can decrease by 60 to 70% if screening tests are performed. Treatment upon early stage colorectal cancer is also more effective.

The recommended screening tests for colorectal cancer include:
  • Fecal occult blood testing (FOBT): Polyps and colorectal cancer can bleed and FOBT checks for the presence of blood in a patient’s stool that may not be visible to the naked eye. Blood indicates that there may be growths of polyps or colorectal cancer and it allows doctors to identify people who need further testing. 
  • Sigmoidoscopy: A long flexible light tube with a lens (sigmoidoscope) is inserted into the patient through the anus into the rectum and the lower third of the colon. This allows the doctor to view the lining of the colon and polyps can be removed for further analysis. 
  • Colonoscopy: Similar to sigmoidoscopy, a longer flexible light tube with a lens (colonoscope) is inserted into the patient through the anus into the rectum and the colon. This allows the doctor to view the lining of the colon, especially the upper portions of the colon which is not reachable by sigmoidoscopy, and polyps can be removed for further analysis. 
If you are between the age of 50 and 75, talk with your doctor about getting screened. After age 75, the decision to screen is based on an individual basis.

The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services’(MCDHHS) Asian American Health Initiative (AAHI) encourages you to contact your primary care physician and get screened for colorectal cancer. If you are a Montgomery County resident, with limited-income, and uninsured, you can access primary and preventative health care services from Montgomery Cares Clinics. To learn more about colorectal cancer screenings, contact Montgomery County’s information line at 240-777-0311. You may also call the Cancer Control Program at 240-777-1222 for more information on how to get tested.