Colorectal cancer (CRC) is one of the most diagnosed types of cancer in the United States for both men and women and the second leading cause of cancer death. With new research and advancements in early detection and treatment, there is hope for CRC patients and their families.
Improving Early Detection & Screenings
Recently, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended that the standard age of colorectal screenings change from 50 to 45. This recommendation is because nearly 11 percent of new CRC cases are diagnosed in people under 50. Beginning this past January, all private health insurance plans under The Affordable Care Act (except those grandfathered in) must cover screening for a colonoscopy starting at age 45. This includes a follow-up colonoscopy due to a positive result from a non-invasive screening, like a stool test.
CRC screening tests include colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, stool-based tests, virtual colonoscopy, and the FDA-approved home test, Cologuard, which checks for changes in DNA and blood in the stool. Screenings are the most effective way to reduce your risk of CRC because they can detect precancerous growths, known as polyps, before they become cancerous. And if cancer is found early, it can impact the effectiveness of treatment.
Researchers are looking into new non-invasive testing techniques to increase the number of people screened for CRC. This includes technologies that improve the genetic analysis of stool samples, as well as studying changes in the gut microbiome to hopefully identify bacteria that could potentially be used to screen for CRC.
Progress in Treating Colorectal Cancer
Surgery continues to be the most common treatment for colorectal cancer. However, surgical techniques have evolved and advanced to become minimally invasive. Laparoscopic, robotic, and other surgical methods are used to remove polyps and cancerous tissues, so patients experience less pain and have a shorter recovery time.
Other treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, targeted therapy, radiofrequency ablation, and cryosurgery may also be recommended depending on the stage of cancer. Many studies and clinical trials are looking into new colorectal treatments, like immunotherapy, and new combinations of existing treatments.
Other Advancements in Colorectal Cancer
With the progress in liquid biopsies, this technique could be a potential new approach to detecting and tracking CRC. Liquid biopsies are samples of bodily fluids, typically blood or urine, that use DNA, cells, and other substances shed from tumors to analyze and monitor diseases like cancer. Currently, researchers are looking into this method for CRC regarding early detection, measuring treatment response and identifying resistance, and keeping an eye on cancer recurrence.
Some studies hope to identify the causes of CRC and ways to prevent the disease. This includes investigating food, nutrition, and medicines that could lower the risk of a CRC diagnosis. For instance, research has shown that aspirin and similar pain relievers could reduce the risk of CRC, but the drug has serious side effects. However, the benefit of taking aspirin may outweigh the potential dangers for those at higher risk of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
Education, awareness, and screening are vital to preventing and beating colorectal cancer. Encourage your loved ones to get screened, and if you are 45 or older, speak to your doctor about scheduling your next screening test.