ICA marks March as Colorectal Cancer Awareness month

Avoiding colonoscopy after finding occult blood is foolish; early diagnosis improves survival

DR. ITAI MAZA shows off Given Imaging’s colorectal cancer Pillcam (photo credit: RAMBAM HOSPITAL SPOKESMAN)
DR. ITAI MAZA shows off Given Imaging’s colorectal cancer Pillcam
Many people ignore the results of a test to detect colon cancer if it shows hidden, or occult, blood in their stool and avoid a colonoscopy that can find tumors or precancerous polyps.
The reason, according to the Israel Cancer Association which studied the matter, is fear of the invasive test and the possibility of bad news.
The ICA released information about this type of cancer as part of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March.
Each year, more than 3,000 men and women in Israel are diagnosed for the first time with colorectal cancer. Last year, 1,242 Israelis died of it.
While it is the second most-common cancer and its prevalence is high here compared to other OECD countries, the death rate is lower because of early detection and better access to treatment.
Half of all Israeli Jewish men and women with colorectal cancer were diagnosed after age 70, while among Arabs the median age of diagnosis is 63 for men and 59 for women. The death rate for the disease has declined since 1995, first among Jews before the trend changed for Arabs.
Sixty percent of Israelis over the age of 50 undergo occult blood tests or a colonoscopy. Occult blood testing alone does not identify many of those with precancerous polyps or colorectal cancer.
Early diagnosis is vital in making it possible to treat at an earlier stage and enable the patient to survive, the ICA said.
New research suggests ways of avoiding or reducing the risk of colorectal cancer: not smoking; adopting a healthful lifestyle of nutritious diet and exercise; minimizing consumption of red meat; limiting unhealthful fats; reducing alcohol consumption; and eating a lot of vegetables and fruits.
ICA director-general Miri Ziv said that colorectal cancer is preventable if precancerous polyps are identified and removed by colonoscopy. The death rate is much higher if identification and removal is late.
Smokers are significantly less likely to survive the disease.
Smokers who are diagnosed with colorectal cancer are urged to kick the tobacco habit immediately.
People over the age of 50 should have a painless occult blood test done once a year.
Anyone with a family history of the disease should start at age 40 or a decade before the age of the first-degree relative who had it. If one has already had the cancer or even a polyp, one should be tested more frequently.
Research in universities in California have also found that taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) reduces the risk of the return of colorectal cancer in patients who have already been diagnosed. Such patients are also urged to take folic acid, calcium and vitamin D supplements.
New research has found that patients with tumors in the left side of the colon survive longer than those with tumors on the right side of the large intestine.