Katie Couric has raised awareness of colorectal cancer ever since her husband died of the disease in 1998. Yet colorectal cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, only surpassed by lung cancer. Both are preventable: lung cancer by not smoking, and colorectal cancer by screening for and removing precancerous polyps.
The American Cancer Society has teamed up with the CDC (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and other organizations to set an ambitious goal of screening 80 percent of eligible people for colorectal cancer by the year 2018. Screening for colorectal cancer is incredibly important because removing precancerous polyps actually prevents colorectal cancer. Across the nation, if 80 percent of the eligible population gets screened, it would prevent 277,000 new cases of colorectal cancer and 203,000 deaths (270 of those in Angelina County!) within 20 years. Those are staggering numbers.
Why so high? Because one in three adults in the United States between ages 50 and 75 — about 23 million people — are not getting tested as recommended. In Texas in 2016, there will be 9,680 new cases of colorectal cancer and 3,520 deaths. This translates in Angelina County to about 36 new cases and 14 deaths this year alone. Remember, these are preventable deaths.
How are we going to achieve this screening goal locally?
The Angelina County & Cities Health District, CHI St. Luke’s Health Memorial, the Temple Cancer Center and our local gastroenterologists have teamed up with the American Cancer Society and CPRIT — the state-funded Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas — to educate our area population and screen eligible patients for colorectal cancer through a cooperative grant headed by UT Tyler. Most insurances cover routine screening, but this group stands ready to make sure that any eligible patient, whether insured or not, has access to life-saving screening and, if a cancer is found, treatment as well.
There are many ways to be screened, but I want to focus on the two most available. These two — colonoscopy and FIT testing — are also funded under the CPRIT grant and by almost all insurances. Having a colonoscopy is the best test, in my opinion, because if any polyps are found they can be removed right then and there. If the colonoscopy is negative, nothing else needs to be done for 10 years! My wife and I had ours done the year we turned 50, and it really is not a big deal. Yes, you have to do a bowel prep to clean out your colon, but that is a small price to pay for peace of mind for 10 years.
The second test covered under the CPRIT grant — and the one that will be done most often at the Health District — is the FIT (fecal immunochemical) test. It is a test for hidden blood in the stool, which can be an early sign of colon cancer. This test is done at home by using a small brush to collect some stool and place it on a test card. The test kit is then mailed back to the clinic for processing. The FIT test must be done every year, as opposed to the colonoscopy every 10 years, but it is cheaper and doesn’t require a bowel prep. If the FIT test is positive, a colonoscopy is then necessary.
If you are between the ages of 50 and 75 and have not had a colonoscopy in the last 10 years or had an annual FIT test, ask your doctor to schedule you for one. If you do not have insurance, call Angelina County Connects at (936) 633-1442 and ask the eligibility specialists if you qualify to be screened under the CPRIT grant. Let’s work together to prevent cancer and get to 80 percent by 2018!
Dr. Sid Roberts is a radiation oncologist at the Arthur Temple, Sr. Regional Cancer Center in Lufkin. He can be reached at email@example.com. Previous columns may be found at srob61.blogspot.com.