By Michael Sapienza, CEO, Colorectal Cancer Alliance
March is the busiest month of my year. Here at the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, we’re in overdrive harnessing the power of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Throughout March, colorectal cancer is at the center of America’s healthcare discussion. Local clinics seek resources. Big names make statements. Reporters call with questions. Maybe you caught dozens of allies—the name we call our supporters—on the Today show with me earlier this month. There we talked about colorectal cancer in front of millions of viewers. I love March because the awareness month saves lives.
For example, our efforts to raise awareness can inspire people to get screened. Routine screening is recognized as the most effective way to reduce one’s risk of colorectal cancer, and the American Cancer Society recommends that screenings start at age 45 for average-risk individuals. Colonoscopy is the most accurate screening test, but other, less-invasive screening methods also exist. The risk of colorectal cancer climbs with age. The average age of a man diagnosed with colon cancer is 68. Among women, the average age is 72. In rectal cancer, the average age at diagnosis is 63 for both sexes. What keeps me awake is that one-third of eligible adults in the U.S. have never been screened. One in three!
Why is that such big deal?
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer impacting men and women, with about 90 percent of new cases occurring in individuals 50 and older. Yet we have powerful defenses against it: screening and early detection. With appropriate screening, colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable and treatable of all cancers. Patients with colorectal cancer detected in the early stage have a 90 percent survival rate after five years. Screening tests can even detect cancer or precancer when you don’t have symptoms. In fact, some experts believe an uptake in screening has contributed, at least in part, to declining incidence rates of colorectal cancer in older adults.
Our efforts during March also get people talking. Sharing medical history among family members saves lives. About a quarter of colorectal cancer patients have a family history of the disease, and that could suggest a genetic or hereditary factor. People with a family history of the disease are at increased risk and should discuss early screening with their doctors. But such steps can only be taken if people first talk and share their medical histories with family members.
Why am I telling you about March, anyhow? (They say it’s almost over.)
First of all, the momentum we build in the 31 days that comprise March shouldn’t go away on April 1. Awareness month should become awareness always. Together in the days and months ahead, we should talk about colorectal cancer with friends and family. We can ask whether our sons or daughters, moms or dads, and friends and coworkers have been screened. A simple question can save a loved one’s life.
Second, we are a nation of allies, and there is still time for you to get involved. Visit our March National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month website for ideas. We’d love to have you aligned with our mission!