March 26, 2021

Raise Your Awareness about Colorectal Cancer, It Could Save Your Life

Tonia Hale

Tonia Hale

By Tonia W. Hale, DNP, MAOM, BSN, RN

The importance of routine health screenings can’t be overemphasized. Tests like mammograms and PSA exams for prostate cancer have the ability to detect cancers at their earliest stages, when no symptoms are apparent, and as we know, the earlier you can find cancer, the better a patient’s outlook is.

According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most diagnosed form of cancer in both men and women, not counting certain skin cancers. The National Cancer Institute reports that nearly 149,000 cases will be diagnosed this year in the United States. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so it is the ideal time to talk about colorectal cancer risk factors, the screening options and recommendations that exist for the disease, and the things you can do to team up with your primary care physician to lower your risk.

In terms of risk factors for any type of cancer, there are those you can control and those you can’t. Lifestyle changes that lower your risk for colorectal cancer include eating a healthy diet filled with fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains as opposed to processed, fatty foods and a lot of red meat, exercising daily instead of maintaining a sedentary lifestyle, refraining from using tobacco and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption. Your eating, drinking and exercise habits impact your weight, too, and staying in a normal weight range should be the goal, since obesity is linked to a higher risk of colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer risks that aren’t modifiable include having a family history of colorectal cancer and having a history of polyps yourself. Some populations are more prone to colorectal cancer as well, like African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews. Simply getting older also increases your risk.

In terms of prevention, there are now more screening tools available, but the best and most comprehensive screening is the colonoscopy, which average risk individuals should start having at age 50. For some patients, fecal occult blood testing is appropriate. This is a test that detects hidden blood in the stool. Though it can present evidence of colon cancer, it also indicates if you have many other conditions, such as hemorrhoids, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Cologuard® is a test for those older than 50 who are at average risk for colorectal cancer. It not only looks for blood in the stool, it also hunts for DNA that has been altered by colon cancer or precancerous polyps. Your physician prescribes the Cologuard test and it is mailed to you. You perform the test at home, which involves taking a stool sample, using an agent to preserve it, and sending it to the lab, where it is analyzed. The results are sent to your doctor and if they come back positive, they will recommend that you get a colonoscopy. If your results are negative, your doctor may decide you don’t need a colonoscopy at this juncture.

Even though people joke about the fact that colonoscopies, and the preparation that precedes them, is something they dread, this screening is the most comprehensive test you can get. The colonoscopy also has the ability to transform from screening test to real-time treatment. If the physician performing the colonoscopy spots a polyp, they can remove it then and there, and you are advised to be screened more frequently than those whose colonoscopy results are normal. If no abnormalities are found, you don’t have to get retested for 10 years, but if polyps are found and removed, your doctor decides when your next screening should be, based on the pathology of the polyp or polyps that were removed and your other risk factors.

Something to be aware of is that even though your colorectal cancer risk goes up as you advance in years, an alarming trend started in the 1990s, and colorectal cancer diagnoses in younger adults under age 50 have more than doubled. Many studies are going on to research possible causes, including whether environmental factors may play a role, but definitive answers continue to elude researchers.

The good news is that colorectal cancer is treatable, and that the 5-year survival rate when it is caught early is 90 percent. This is why it’s important to speak with your primary care physician about when and how you should be screened, depending on what your individual risk factors are.

I want to remind the community that Blue Ridge Regional Hospital is the safest environment in which you could receive care, so it’s important not to put off getting screened for colorectal cancer if you are due to be tested. We have long instituted all CDC-recommended safety protocols for COVID-19 at the hospital, including limiting visitors, and cleaning our facility more frequently, screening all who enter the building, and instituting universal masking.
We offer colonoscopies in our endoscopy suite at the Mauzy-Phillips Center or in the main operating room of the hospital with the physician of your choice. Appointments can be scheduled by calling 828-766-3555 — select option 2 — Mission Community Surgical Specialists, and then select option 1 to schedule an appointment.

Commit to take good care of yourself in 2021, and place a conversation about getting screened for colorectal cancer with your doctor at the top of your to-do list.

Blue Ridge Regional Hospital


Tonia W. Hale, DNP, MAOM, BSN, RN, is Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine.

Blue Ridge Regional Hospital, a member of Mission Health, an operating division of HCA Healthcare, is a community hospital serving Mitchell, Yancey, lower Avery and upper McDowell counties. Located in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, Blue Ridge Regional Hospital is a Critical Access Hospital operating 25 beds. Blue Ridge Regional Hospital offers medical specialties including emergency services, prenatal and postnatal obstetrical care, wound clinic, cardiac stress testing, cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation programs, nuclear medicine, 3D mammography, endoscopy services, critical care, rehabilitation services and fitness center, cancer services, orthopedics, general surgical services, pediatrics and family medicine, and walk-in, non-emergency care at Mission My Care Now Spruce Pine.