Intermountain Healthcare

Delays in Colon Cancer screenings due to COVID Pandemic has Intermountain Healthcare Physicians concerned

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(Good Things Utah) The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a sharp decrease in recommended cancer screening tests, which could mean that some early cancers may have gone undetected.

Specifically, a dramatic decrease of almost 50% in colorectal screenings across the Intermountain Healthcare system from 2019 to 2020 has led Intermountain physicians to remind people not to delay their colonoscopies.

“Delays in screening could mean that the missed cancers might be larger and more advanced,” said Krista Schonrock, MD, senior medical director for SelectHealth. “Cancers, in general are easier to treat in their early stages and early detection could mean a difference between life and death.”

Screenings Save Lives – For Men and Women.

“Many women think colon cancer is a men’s health issue and don’t see the need for a colon screening,” said Dr. Schonrock. “The truth is colon cancer doesn’t play favorites.”

In fact, in Utah colon cancer cases are 50/50 by gender. Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer among women behind breast and lung cancer, according to the CDC. The numbers for average risk is about 1 in 22 for men and 1 in 24 for women.

“However, this is completely avoidable with appropriate screening,” said Dr. Schonrock.

Screenings has the potential to detect cancers and precancerous lesions while in the early stages, which is when they are the most treatable – but before other symptoms appear.

In the early stages of colorectal cancer, there may be no symptoms. This is another reason why it’s important to know the risk factors associated with colorectal cancer and talk to your doctor about scheduling a screening.

Statistics and Facts:

  • The Colorectal Cancer Alliance reports about 11 percent of colorectal cancers are diagnosed in those younger than 50 years. Based on these findings the age for screening has been lowered to 45 for average-risk adults.
  • Colorectal cancer is still a leading cause of cancer death for men and women. Each year, almost 53,000 people die in the United States and 145,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
  • In Utah, 350 people die of colorectal cancer each year, with 900 new cases a year.
  • Colorectal cancer is preventable, detectable and if found early, treatable.
  • According to the American Cancer Society, 9 out of 10 times early treatment saves lives and the five-year survival rate for colon cancer if caught early is 90%. When diagnosed in stage IV that number drops to 14%.

Get Tested Before You Have Symptoms

Colon cancer doesn’t typically have symptoms in the early stages. This means the best bet for early detection is following the screening guidelines.

Cancer cases among young people has led the United States Preventive Services Task Force to establish new colon cancer screening guidelines.

Medical experts are now officially recommending that people with average risk have their first colonoscopy or other screening at age 45, rather than 50 which was the previous standard.

For several decades the survival rate of colorectal cancer has improved, but research indicates a higher trend of incidence of colorectal cancer and mortality in younger adults.

Many colorectal cancers begin as a small polyp, and if a polyp is found during colonoscopy, it can be removed, preventing the polyp from ever turning into cancer. Thus, colonoscopy can serve as both a screening and preventive tool.

“Ask your doctor about screening if you or a closer relative has had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer,” said Dr. Schonrock. “Understanding family history, genetics, and other risk factors can help patients and doctors determine when to screen. You just don’t have any time to waste.”

Risk Factors:

  • Family History: If you have a close relative who has had colon cancer or a colon polyp, you may be at higher risk for getting the disease.
  • Age: About 90% of the time, colorectal cancer occurs in adults older than 45.
  • Ethnicity: Rates of colorectal cancer are higher in African Americans compared with other races. “African Americans present at more advanced stages and need to be screened younger and more frequently,” said Dr. Schonrock.
  • Medical Conditions: Having an inflammatory bowel disease may increase your risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Lifestyle: There are some risk factors you can change. These include stopping smoking, improving your diet, being active, and keeping a healthy weight.

Other Screenings for Colon Cancer:

In the past one of the only ways to screen was a colonoscopy, which uses a camera system inserted into the colon to look for possible issues. New advancements allow people to screen more often using a Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) kit at home.

The FIT isn’t set to replace a colonoscopy, but can serve as a vital tool for regular monitoring for those with low to moderate risk of colorectal cancer.

A person can receive a FIT kit by having their doctor order them one. It is recommended people speak with their doctors to come up with a screening plan that’s right for them.

Always call your insurance company before undergoing any test or procedure to determine coverage and any other questions you may have.

If you are 45 years old or older, talk to your doctor about which test is right for you. For more information on FIT kits, colonoscopies, or to find a physician visit the Intermountain healthcare website.

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