Missed colon screenings expected to increase mortality rate

National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, held in March each year, aims to raise awareness of this deadly illness and educate communities about the importance of colorectal cancer screening, prevention and treatment. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States and is the third most common cancer in men and women. It is largely preventable through routine colonoscopies.

This year, it’s more important than ever to draw attention to this deadly disease. When COVID-19 gripped the country, colorectal cancer screenings plummeted. Nearly 200,000 Americans skipped their colonoscopies in 2020 and close to 1,000 cases of colorectal cancer were missed as a result, according to a report by AmSurg. The Healthcare Cost Institute also recently shared that colonoscopies were down almost 90% at one point in mid-April 2020 compared to 2019 and as of late September 2020, are still down about 10-15% compared to the previous year. Additionally, the National Cancer Institute predicts almost 10,000 excess deaths in the U.S. from breast and colorectal cancer over the next 10 years due to delayed screenings and a Lancet study conducted in the UK estimates a 15-16.6 percent increase in deaths from colorectal cancer over the next five years because of diagnostic delays.

Colorectal cancer stats
  • The American Cancer Society’s estimates 104,270 new cases of colon cancer and 45,230 new cases of rectal cancer in 2021.
  • While colorectal cancer incidence rates in people 55 years or older are consistently dropping, rates are increasing by 2% each year in those younger than 55.
  • In fact, 11% of colon cancer diagnoses and 18% of rectal cancer diagnoses occur in those under 50.
  • Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 23 (4.4%) for men and 1 in 25 (4.1%) for women.
  • In the United States, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and in women, and the second most common cause of cancer deaths when men and women are combined.
What to do?

90 percent of all colorectal cancer cases and deaths are preventable by removing polyps and cancer can be successfully treated — and often cured — when detected early. Routine screening tests can help prevent colorectal cancer and can detect the disease in its early stages when it is more easily treated. So get screened! If you’re at average risk, start talking to your gastroenterologist at around age 45 about screening options. If you’re at high risk, you may need to get screened sooner.

Know the symptoms
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Vague abdominal pain
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Change in bowel habits
Know the risk factors
  • Age (45+)
  • Family history
  • Gender (men are at greater risk)
  • History of IBD
  • Race
  • Lifestyle (smoking, obesity, lack of physical exercise, diet, poor nutrition)
  • Ethnicity (African Americans are at higher risk of Colorectal Cancer)

If you’re at risk or have symptoms, don’t hesitate – schedule an appointment with a gastroenterologist today.