Health and Family Services Cabinet
Be Aware of the Dangers of Colorectal Cancer
Public Health Officials Push Awareness, Screenings
Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) officials are urging Kentuckians to be aware of the seriousness of colorectal cancer, and are encouraging Kentuckians to talk to their health care providers about screening for the disease.
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, the time of year when public health officials, health care providers and educators work to raise awareness about the disease.
In Kentucky, the incidence rate of invasive colorectal cancer is 62.1 per 100,000 people, significantly higher than the national rate of 52.9 per 100,000. Screenings and early detection are crucial in treating this disease.
Both men and women are at risk of developing colorectal cancer. Screenings are encouraged because they can detect problems, such as polyps, which can develop into cancer, but can be easily removed when detected early.
“Colorectal cancer is second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer-related death in the United States, but it doesn’t have to be,” said Health and Family Services’ Acting Undersecretary for Health and DPH Commissioner William D. Hacker, M.D. “If everybody age 50 or older had regular screening tests, at least one-third of deaths from this cancer could be avoided.”
Colorectal cancer can start with no symptoms, thus making screening the best defense against the disease. When symptoms develop, they may include bloody stools; frequent pain, aches or cramps in the stomach; changes in bowel habits; and unexplained weight loss.
If these symptoms occur, talk to a health care provider. Something other than cancer may cause the symptoms, but a medical consultation is necessary. The most common colorectal cancer screening tests include fecal occult blood test, flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy and double contrast barium enema.
In Kentucky, only about 50 percent of people who should have screening tests have done so. Kentucky also has a higher than average population with increased risk of colon cancer due to obesity, diets high in fat and not enough regular exercise.
Individual risk for colorectal cancer may be higher than average if you or a close relative have had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer, or if you have inflammatory bowel disease, according to DPH. People at higher risk for colorectal cancer may need to start screening at a younger age or have more frequent tests than others. Talk to your doctor about when you should begin screening and how often you should be tested.
Local health departments offer the fecal occult blood test, an initial screening test.
Many insurance plans, Medicaid and Medicare help pay for colorectal cancer screening tests. Check your health plan to find out which tests are covered.