Member Guest Blog: Colon Cancer Screenings: The Best Test is the One That Gets Done

by Amanda Marchegiani, Community Relations Coordinator
and Karen Ryczak, RN, Patient Navigator/Surveillance Coordinator
Northeast Regional Cancer Institute

Colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon and rectum) affects both men and women and is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Every year about 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer and more than 50,000 people die from it.

In northeast Pennsylvania, colorectal cancer is the fourth most frequently diagnosed cancer and is the second leading cause of cancer death.  Incidence rates are about 17 percent higher and mortality rates are 13 percent above the national average.  Nearly 540 new cases are diagnosed, and more than 200 patients die from colorectal cancer annually in Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties combined.

The good news is that colorectal cancer is preventable when screening recommendations are followed.  Screening can prevent cancer by finding polyps before they become cancerous and can also diagnosis cancer at an early stage when treatment is more effective.  Screening is recommended for men and women at average risk starting at age 50. Some factors put you at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer and you may need to start screening earlier than age 50.  There are several types of colorectal cancer screening, including colonoscopy and stool based tests.  Consult your doctor to find out what test is best for you, including the one you are most likely to complete, and when you should start screening for colorectal cancer.

Risks for colorectal cancer include:

  • Age (about 90 percent of cases occur in people older than age 50);
  • Personal or family history of colon polyps or colorectal cancer;
  • Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis;
  • Inherited syndromes;
  • Diets low in fiber and high in red or processed meat; and
  • Physical inactivity and obesity.

Screening is also important because there often are no symptoms of colorectal cancer evident until the disease is advanced. The signs and symptoms are also similar to non-cancerous conditions.   You should consult your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Persistent changes in bowel habits;
  • Stools that look narrower and thinner;
  • Abdominal pain/bloating;
  • Blood in or on the stool;
  • Weakness/fatigue; and/or
  • Unexplained weight loss.

Colorectal cancer is preventable and screening can save lives. The more casual conversations we have about colon cancer, the more lives we hope can be spared from this disease.  In the end, the best test is the one you get done.

The Northeast Regional Cancer Institute’s Navigation Screening Program helps individuals who are un- or underinsured get up-to-date on breast, cervical and colon cancer screenings. Please contact the Cancer Institute at for more information about this program.

The Northeast Regional Cancer Institute has been a member of The Chamber since 1991.