The Importance of Identifying Colorectal Cancer Early


According to the American Cancer Society excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. In 2024 it is estimated that 152,810 adults will be diagnosed with colon (106,590) or rectal (46,220) cancer and 53,010 people will die from this disease. “The good news is colorectal cancer is a highly preventable disease,” shares Dr. Ashraf Almashhrawi, gastroenterologist with Hannibal Regional Medical Group.

There are several different screening tests available for colorectal cancer, however some of them provide information which might be unclear and harder to identify an abnormal finding. For this reason, a colonoscopy is considered the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening. “Many people are hesitant to get a colonoscopy, but it can be a life-saving procedure,” says Dr. Almashhrawi.

To lower your risk of colorectal cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends that you:
• Begin regular screenings at age 45
• Eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet
• Limit alcohol consumption
• Stop using tobacco
• Exercise for at least 20 minutes three to four days each week

The death rate from colorectal cancer has been declining in both men and women for several decades. One of the factors contributing to this decrease is the early identification and removal of polyps that can develop into cancer. Since there are very few symptoms associated with this type of cancer, routine screening is essential. Through screening, colorectal cancer is being found earlier when the disease is easier to treat. "When detected, most cases will require surgery, sometimes in conjunction with radiation and chemotherapy. Between 80-90% of patients are restored to normal health if the cancer is identified and treated in its earliest stages. However, the cure rate drops to 50% or less when diagnosed in later stages,” says Dr. Almashhrawi.

The risk of developing colorectal cancer increases with age. All men and women aged 45 and older are at risk for developing colorectal cancer and should be screened. Some people are at a higher risk and should be screened at an earlier age, including those with a personal or family history of the following: colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, breast cancer, polyps or inflammatory bowel disease. “According to the American Cancer Society, people with a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) who has been diagnosed with colorectal cancer are two to three times more likely to develop this disease, making this one of the most important and actionable risk factors,” says Dr. Almashhrawi.

“Talk with your healthcare provider about which screening option is right for you,” says Dr. Almashhrawi. “No matter which test you choose, the most important thing is that you get checked.” It's important to keep in mind that if colorectal cancer is found at an early stage during screening, treatment is more likely to be effective. There are currently more than one million colon cancer survivors in the United States. To contact the gastroenterology office of Dr. Ahmed and Dr. Almashhrawi, call (573) 629-3500.