Late-Stage Colorectal Cancer Diagnosis is Increasing
Millions of people missed routine health screenings throughout the pandemic. If you’re one of them, a new study reporting recent trends in cancer diagnosis might change your mind about waiting any longer.
A February study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) compared the diagnosis rates of breast and colorectal cancers before and during the pandemic. What they found underlined the importance of colorectal cancer screening and recent changes in screening recommendations.
At a time when colorectal cancer is increasing in a younger population, the significance of delayed screening can’t be understated. Early screening saves lives.
Screening Decreased During the Pandemic
The study, which compared the total number of colorectal cancer diagnoses in 2019 with that of 2020, found that after the start of the pandemic, the number of Stage 4 cases increased by almost 13%. At the same time, the number of Stage 1 cases decreased.
That means more people were diagnosed with colorectal cancer at a later stage that is much more difficult to treat.
Experts are concerned about this new trend.
In April 2020, there was a 75% decrease in colon cancer screenings. A future increase in cancer rates and deaths due to delays in diagnosing and treating cancers is predicted.
In the summer of 2020, The Prevent Cancer Foundation reported that 35% of scheduled cancer screenings had already been missed due to the pandemic, and 22% of people with routine or screening appointments scheduled for the following months planned to cancel due to fear of exposure the virus.
This theme continued from March 2020 and March 2021. Colorectal cancer screenings were 25% below expected, equaling 249,000 missed screenings.
The study identified several possible reasons for the decrease in these life-saving screenings, including:
- Non-essential care was postponed while redirecting resources to COVID patients
- Stay-at-home orders canceled many appointments
- Recommended quarantine periods for patients and staff when exposed or symptomatic
- Medical centers were seen as hotspots of infection
- Staffing shortages at medical centers
- Loss of jobs and employer-sponsored health insurance
For many, screening appointments weren’t seen as a priority compared to the immensity of current events. For many, just getting by was difficult enough.
But now, it’s critical to get back on track with screenings.
Why Colorectal Cancer Screening Is So Critical
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. and the second most deadly. Despite those grim statistics, colorectal cancer is often treated successfully in the early stages. The key is early detection of polyps, growths in the colon or rectum that can turn cancerous over time.
Removing polyps can prevent colorectal cancer. Since most people with polyps don’t have any symptoms, a colonoscopy is the best way to screen for and remove them. Not all polyps become cancerous but removing them is the only guarantee that they won’t.
Many people with colorectal cancer don’t have any symptoms in the early stages when it’s most treatable. Left undetected, cancerous polyps can spread cancer to the lymph nodes or distant organs.
At Stage 1, colorectal cancer has an 80-95 percent survival rate. By Stage 4, when cancer has spread to other organs, the survival rate drops to 10 percent.
It’s critical to find and remove polyps before they become cancerous.
Updated Screening Guidelines
Although the overall diagnosis rates of colorectal cancer have been declining since the 1980s, the rates in younger patients have increased steadily, prompting several organizations to lower the recommended age of initial screening to 45 for people with an average risk.
People with an increased or high risk may need to be tested younger than 45. You may be at an increased or high risk if you have a:
- Family or personal history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps
- Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease
- Family history of a hereditary colorectal syndrome, like Lynch syndrome
- Personal history of radiation treatment to the abdominal or pelvic area for cancer
If you have an increased or high risk of colorectal cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends discussing your risk with your doctor to determine when and how frequently you should be screened and what type of screening is best for you.
Only time and future research can accurately count the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on colorectal cancer diagnoses in the U.S. One thing is for certain – getting a colonoscopy when you’re due is the best way to catch cancer early or prevent it altogether.
Don’t delay your colonoscopy any longer – schedule an appointment today!