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Can Colorectal Polyps and Cancer Be Found Early?

Yes, colorectal polyps and cancer (or pre-cancerous tissue) can be detected and removed early before the onset of cancer symptoms or even before cells can fully mutate into cancer through regular screening. Regular colorectal cancer screening is one of the most powerful tools against colorectal cancer.

Screenings look for cancerous and pre-cancerous tissues. Colorectal cancer screenings search for colon and rectal cancers. Colonoscopies are the most effective screening because they can detect as well as remove colorectal polyps. (Based on the number and attributes of polyps doctors find may indicate other diseases as well).

Polyps are growths on the wall of the large intestine. Many polyps are pre-cancerous. If doctors find polyps during a colonoscopy, they will remove the polyps painlessly during the procedure, which stops them from turning into cancer.

Screening can often find colorectal cancer early, when it is small, has not spread, and might be easier to treat. Regular screening can even prevent colorectal cancer. A polyp can take as many as 10 to 15 years to develop into cancer. With screening, doctors can find and remove polyps before they have the chance to turn into cancer.

Why is colorectal cancer screening important?

Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death for men and women in the US. But the death rate (the number of deaths per 100,000 people per year) of colorectal cancer has been dropping for several decades. One reason for this is that colorectal polyps are now more often found by screening and removed before they can develop into cancers.

When colorectal cancer is found at an early stage before it has spread, the five-year relative survival rate is about 90%, but only about four out of 10 colorectal cancers are found at this early stage. When cancer has spread outside the colon or rectum, survival rates are lower.

Unfortunately, about one in three people in the US who should get tested for colorectal cancer have never been screened. Colonoscopy screenings are the most effective, but it is most important that everyone does some form of screening. Regular testing could save their lives from colorectal cancer.

The American Cancer Society’s estimates for the number of colorectal cancer cases in the United States for 2021 are: 104,270 new cases of colon cancer, 45,230 new cases of rectal cancer, and 52,980 deaths during 2021.

Don’t Put Off Your Colonoscopy

Having regular colonoscopies allows for cancer to be found when it is small and easy to treat. Treatment for colon cancer is mainly determined by how far it has spread (cancer stage). If colon cancer has not spread outside of the colon lining (Stage 0), it is easiest to treat and usually only requires surgery to remove polyps or cut out the affected area of the colon.

Stage I colon cancers have grown deeper into the layers of the colon wall, but they have not spread outside the colon wall itself or into the nearby lymph nodes.

Stage I includes cancers that were part of a polyp. If the polyp is removed completely during colonoscopy, with no cancer cells at the edges (margins) of the removed piece, no other treatment may be needed.

If colon cancer has spread outside of the colon, treatment is more drastic. It may include removal of sections of colon or other tissues, chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy. If the cancer has spread too far or progressed too much, treatment may be recommended to improve quality of life and relieve cancer symptoms instead of having a goal of remission.

If you have colon cancer and delay your colon cancer screening, the cancer will have time to grow and spread to other organs. When cancer has spread outside of the colon to nearby structures, the five-year survival rate decreases to 71 percent. When cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, like the liver or lungs, the survival rate drops to 41 percent.

Colonoscopy screenings can detect more than cancer and polyps. They help doctors find abnormalities, damage, potential kinks, obstructions, and possible future health problems that could be helped before they grow into bigger problems.

If you have one or more risk factors, if you’re at average risk and it’s been 10 years since your last colonoscopy (or five years for other visual exams: CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) or flexible sigmoidoscopy (FSIG)), or if you’re experiencing symptoms of colorectal cancer, schedule a colonoscopy screening today.

Gastroenterology Consultants of San Antonio takes a comprehensive and collaborative approach to healthcare. Our physicians specialize in all aspects of gastroenterology, and we work closely with other specialists — including primary care physicians, surgeons, oncologists, and radiologists — to create an individualized care plan just for you.

Comfort and digestive health await you at Gastroenterology Consultants of San Antonio. Schedule an appointment today!


Source: American Cancer Society

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