Recent news about celebrities who have lost their lives to colon cancer in the past few months is reminding Americans of the silent and aggressive nature of the disease.
TikTok star, Randy Gonzalez, 35, (part of the “Enky Boys”), died in January 2023. Actress, Kirstie Alley, 71, died in December 2022. Brazilian three-time World Cup champion, Pelé, 83, died in December 2022. And with the recent release of the movie “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”, fans have been remembering the original Black Panther star, Chadwick Boseman, who died of colon cancer at age 43 in August 2020.
Their deaths have shone a spotlight on the importance of screenings, especially since there is a 90% cure rate with colorectal cancer, if caught early. During March, which is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, providers want the community to note the new approaches to screenings.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that individuals begin routine colorectal cancer screening at age 45 (up to age 75) or earlier, if they have a family history of the disease. When a polyp is found during a colonoscopy, physicians suggest patients return more frequently for additional screenings.
According to Matthias Weiss, MD, an Oncologist/Hematologist at ThedaCare Regional Cancer Center, even though colonoscopy is considered the gold standard, there are three main ways to check for colorectal cancer:
- Fecal occult blood test (FOBT): This test checks for blood in the stool, which can be a sign of colorectal cancer.
- Stool DNA test: This test looks for DNA markers that indicate the presence of colorectal cancer.
- Colonoscopy: This test involves the insertion of a long, flexible tube into the rectum to visually inspects the colon for any abnormalities or cancer.
For more information about scheduling an appointment for a colonoscopy, visit thedacare.org/services/cancer-and-blood-disorders/screenings-prevention/colonoscopy-screening/.
With a family history of colorectal polyps or cancer, doctors suggest genetic counseling as one way for people to better understand their risk for the disease. Cancer in parents or siblings is most concerning, but cancer in aunts and uncles and cousins also is important to consider as well as the age of diagnosis for any relative. A family history check could determine the chances of having a family cancer syndrome and whether to move forward with genetic testing, designed to detect an abnormal mutated gene, which puts family members at a high risk. An example would be Lynch syndrome – also known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC).
“We hope these celebrity patient deaths prompt families to have conversations and take action to get checked for their predisposition to cancer,” said Dr. Weiss. “Those findings will guide us as to when it is best to start screening for colon cancer, especially at a younger age.”
Dr. Weiss also explained that there are clinical trials showing promise, improving the optimal treatment after colon cancer surgery, for example if chemotherapy is necessary or not, utilizing a new technology, called circulating tumor DNA . The DNA is found in the bloodstream and comes from cancerous cells and tumors. As part of this study, blood is taken from a patient after colon cancer surgery.
“This test is highly predictive in determining whether cancer will recur in the patient after surgery,” Dr. Weiss explained. “Furthermore, related ctDNA tests called Multi-Cancer-Early-Detection (MCED) tests have been developed and clinical trials are in the process of being designed to evaluate if this new technology can be used to detect cancer, including colon cancer, at an even earlier stage utilizing a simple blood test.”
ThedaCare is involved with clinical trials in the fight against colorectal cancer. A review of the ongoing studies can be found here.
Dr. Weiss is hopeful about the research taking place.
“It’s an exciting new era in cancer screening and cancer prevention,” he said. “We can increasingly personalize screening based on risk, currently on the basis of one’s personal and family history and perhaps in the future based on MCED peripheral blood tests.”
Colon cancer is the most preventable cancer, according to ACS. Still, there are more than 150,000 new cases of colon cancer in the United States, effecting all races and ethnicities, mostly among patients aged 50 or older. It is the second most deadly behind lung cancer, mainly because it is hard to detect in the early stages. People typically have no symptoms until the advanced stages.
Symptoms include rectal bleeding, changes in bowel movements (constipation, diarrhea, etc.), abdominal pain, fatigue, anemia, unexplained weight loss, decreased appetite.
If you experience any of these symptoms, speak with a health care provider as soon as possible. Early detection and treatment have shown to improve outcomes.
Risk factors include a diet high in red meat and processed foods, a sedentary lifestyle, and smoking. To reduce your risk, physicians recommend you focus on four key lifestyles:
- Eat a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and high-fiber foods.
- Exercise regularly, which improves physical and emotional well-being and prevents unhealthy weight gain.
- Quit smoking and limit alcohol consumption.
- Get a colonoscopy (even if you feel healthy) and other recommended cancer screening procedures
“By taking steps to reduce risk factors and pursue recommended cancer screening procedures, individuals can take control of their health and improve their chances of early detection and successful treatment,” said Dr. Weiss. “We want people to be empowered with information to help prevent colon cancer.”
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique, best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts about a patient’s care. ThedaCare is proud to partner with Children’s Wisconsin and Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network to enhance convenient access to the most advanced levels of specialty care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care. For more information, visit thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.