While diagnosed cases of COVID-19 continue to rise around the country, certain diagnosed cases of cancer are on the decline, including colorectal cancer. On the surface, this seems like an amazing development and celebration-worthy accomplishment in the fight against colorectal cancer! But, a closer look reveals the truth behind this decrease lies in a dramatic decrease in exams and screenings this past year, a trend we need to reverse heading into 2021.
When COVID-19 became prevalent early this past spring, health care facilities and hospitals in different areas around the country quickly became overwhelmed with patients. In addition, information was still being gathered as to the potency of the disease as well as the contagious nature of the disease. In an attempt to reduce patient contact and also to conserve resources in the healthcare systems, the American Society of Clinical Oncology recommended that certain cancer screening procedures be postponed if that procedure required a visit to a clinic or oncology center. As such, hospitals and clinics across the nation canceled or delayed this ‘elective’ procedure until further notice.
As time passed and more information became available regarding protective measures and patient safety, doctors began to schedule screenings again. This lapse of time though will ultimately come at a cost, as cancer is a disease that doesn’t delay or stop due to cultural changes or worldwide pandemics. It is inevitable that too many people will find out later than they should have that they have colorectal cancer. And as we know with cancer, every day counts when it comes to early detection and treatment.
Screenings are vital to catching any disease early, especially cancer. The earlier that you are able to diagnose colorectal cancer, the easier it potentially becomes to treat. In particular, these screenings are important because according to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 23 men and 1 in 25 women will develop colorectal cancer during their lifetime. It is the second most diagnosed cancer in both men and women (combined) and is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women combined (individually, it ranks 3rd for both men and women). Colorectal cancer represents over 8% of all newly diagnosed cancers. In light of this information, it is recommended that screenings begin around the age of 45 unless one is genetically predisposed or has a family history with colorectal cancer, in which case screening should happen earlier.
When it comes to screening and exam options, there are a few different options at a doctor’s disposal one can have done after a consultation.
A colonoscopy is the most commonly known screening for colorectal cancer and is a way for your doctor to see the entire large intestine. During a colonoscopy, a small, lit tube is gently eased up into your anus and rectum and up into the colon. The colonoscopy tube has a small camera on it that shows your doctor pictures as the tube progresses through the inside of the colon. If necessary, the physician may take a small sample of tissue through the tube for further examination. This is called a biopsy. The patient is sedated and given pain medication before the procedure to make him or her more comfortable.
A sigmoidoscopy is a similar test to the colonoscopy, but slightly less invasive. During a sigmoidoscopy, a small, lit tube is inserted into the anus and rectum and into the lower colon, or sigmoid colon. If necessary, a biopsy may be taken, but if polyps are present, a colonoscopy may be recommended for a more thorough examination. The patient is normally not sedated during this procedure as it is uncomfortable but generally painless.
For those that can’t have a colonoscopy due to the anesthesia, a CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) may be administered. Whereas a colonoscopy looks at the large intestine from the inside, the CT colonography looks at it from the outside by way of a CT scan. This scan produces hundreds of images which are put together by radiologists to provide an accurate picture of the large intestine and to identify any abnormalities.
Stool tests are another method used by doctors to detect cancer. These tests are used to detect blood in the stool. While this may indicate the presence of cancer, it could also indicate another type of issue, like hemorrhoids. Therefore, if blood is found, your doctor will administer another test/screen to discover the root problem.
The short answer to that is NOW! Time is always of the essence when it comes to cancer. If you are concerned about COVID-19, ask your doctor what preventative measures are put in place to help slow the spread and to put the patient’s mind at ease. Contact us to schedule an appointment whether you are a new patient or a current patient or schedule your screening here.