From the Harford County Health Department:
For more than a decade now, the month of March has been observed in Maryland and across the nation as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Those who watch television probably have seen commercials featuring the likes of celebrities Diane Keaton, Terrance Howard, Katie Couric, Jimmy Smits and Morgan Freeman, whose personal lives have been impacted by the disease. Most however, might still be left to wonder, “Why all the fuss?”
Although the disease is almost entirely preventable through timely screening, the American Cancer Society estimates 2,630 new cases and 950 deaths occurred in 2010 in Maryland due to colorectal cancer. It remains the third most common cancer in both men and women and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in Maryland, behind only lung cancer. While the month of March is used to draw attention to this dreaded disease, the Harford County Health Department wants the public to grasp the importance of screening and prevention as a lifesaving personal health issue 365 days a year.
Elaine Krajewski, R.N., Cancer Prevention Services Nurse Supervisor states, “More than nine out of ten cases of colorectal cancer are found in people ages 50 years and over. Yet an alarming one out of four Marylanders who have reached that age has never been screened for colorectal cancer with colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy.” She goes on to say that colorectal cancer often is referred to as one of many “silent killers” because victims might not show any signs or symptoms, particularly in the early stages of the disease. “People can look healthy, feel fine, and not know there is a problem.”
Screening is advised for all Harford County residents 50 years of age or older, or who are otherwise at increased risk of colon cancer because of personal or family medical history. Private health insurance, Medicaid or Medicare benefits can be used to obtain colorectal cancer screening. Ms. Krajewski urges anyone concerned about the cost of a colonoscopy, to contact the Harford County Health Department’s Colon Cancer Screening Program, which offers no-cost colonoscopies to those who qualify. “And by all means, don’t wait for a healthcare provider to speak with you. Ask your doctor if you should be screened for colorectal cancer.”
Data shows that 60% of colorectal cancer deaths can be prevented with screening. Several screening methods are available, the most common of which is colonoscopy, where a doctor uses a flexible tube with a light to look inside the large intestines. Through colonoscopy, precancerous growths called polyps can be seen and removed before they can turn into cancer, and cancer can be detected in its earliest stages when treatment is most effective. Other tests check for the presence of blood in a person’s stool and when blood is found, generally require follow-up with colonoscopy.
In addition to those ages fifty and older, the American Cancer Society recommends screening for anyone under the age of 50 with a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps or inflammatory bowel disease, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Women with cancer of the ovary or endometrium (womb) before the age of 50 also need to start screening earlier.
Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer may, but do not always involve:
– bleeding from the rectum or blood in the stool,
– change in bowel habits,
– abdominal mass,
– cramps, or pain, and
– iron deficiency anemia that is not caused by other conditions.
Harford County Health Officer Susan Kelly reminds the public that excellent informational resources are available. “The CDC Screen for Life: National Colorectal Cancer Action Campaign launched in 1999 by then-U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, M.D., emphasizes several key messages. Among them, colorectal cancer is an ‘equal-opportunity disease’ affecting all races, ethnicities and both genders.”
For more information about colorectal cancer, screening options or to obtain information about health department services, visit the Harford County Health Department website at www.harfordcountyhealth.com or call 410-612-1780.