June is Men’s Health Month: Focus On Colorectal Cancer

A man smiling behind fall leavesWith June being Men’s Health Month, Health Net, Inc. is working to educate men regarding the importance of being screened for colorectal cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that colorectal cancer is the third-most common cancer among men.

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“According to the CDC, in 2010, more than 27,000 men died from colon cancer,” said Patricia Buss, M.D., medical and health care services operations officer for Health Net. “If we can help to increase the number of men being screened, particularly those over age 50, we can help to significantly reduce the death toll.”

Colon Cancer Overview

“Based on CDC statistics, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death from cancers that affect both men and women,” said Buss. “Colorectal screenings could help prevent at least 60 percent of the more than 50,000 deaths from colorectal cancer each year.”

Regular colorectal cancer screenings are critical because, in its early stages, the disease generally isn’t accompanied by symptoms. If detected early, however, it can be treated much more effectively.

“Colorectal cancer usually starts from polyps in the colon or rectum,” said Buss, “and, over time, some polyps can become malignant. Not only can a screening test help find polyps that can be removed before they become cancerous, but these tests also can help detect colorectal cancer in its early, more treatable stage.”

The CDC notes that a person’s risk for colorectal cancer may be higher than average if he or she:

has a close relative who has had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer;
has inflammatory bowel disease; or
has a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer.

Those who are at higher risk should consult with their physician regarding when they should have a colorectal screening.

Although early-stage colon cancer generally does not come with symptoms, as the disease progresses, symptoms can appear, including:

bloody stool;
persistent stomach pain or cramps; and
unexplained weight loss.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your health care provider immediately.

Screening Guidelines

Based on CDC guidelines, men who are not at an increased risk for colorectal cancer should have their first screening at age 50. At age 80, men should consult their physician regarding the need for continued screenings. There are three primary types of screening tests:

High-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT) – This test involves collecting a stool sample at home that is then analyzed at a lab;
Flexible sigmoidoscopy – Using a sigmoidoscope, the doctor looks for polyps or cancer in the rectum and lower third of the colon; and
Colonoscopy – With the assistance of a colonoscope, the physician looks for polyps or cancer in the rectum, as well as in the entire colon.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), if the FOBT is the only screening being done, it should be conducted annually. The NCI recommends a sigmoidoscopy every five years, along with FOBT every three years. Additionally, the NCI advises a colonoscopy be conducted every 10 years.