Screening Can Help Prevent Colorectal Cancer

by Ellen Willard, MD

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), in addition to age, risk factors for colorectal cancer include:

  • Personal or family history

  • A history of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease

  • Diet, especially with high consumption of red and processed meats and low consumption of whole grains, fruits and vegetables

  • A sedentary lifestyle

  • Smoking



March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a time when Americans are especially encouraged to schedule a colorectal screening or discuss their risk of disease with their physician.

While colorectal cancer remains a common cancer and one of the leading causes of cancer death, screening not only leads to early diagnosis and better survival, but it can also serve to prevent colon cancer. Early-stage colon cancer is associated with a five-year survival rate of 90 percent, which means that an estimated 90 out of 100 people who have that cancer are still alive five years after being diagnosed. Keep in mind, however, that many of these people live much longer than five years after diagnosis.

The most effective “gold standard” for colon cancer screening is a colonoscopy, an exam in which the entire colon and rectum are examined with a lighted instrument called a colonoscope. During this procedure, physicians biopsy or remove polyps or other suspicious lesions. Since many polyps have the potential to become malignant over time, removal of these polyps in effect “prevents” colon cancer.

As a result of increased use of screening with a colonoscopy, the number of new cases of colon cancer, as well as the number of deaths from colon cancer, has been decreasing.

The American Cancer Society recommends that colon cancer screening start at the age of 50, if patients are not otherwise considered to be at high risk. Those at higher risk, who may need to start screening sooner, include those with a personal or family history of certain cancers, including colorectal cancer, or those with other diseases, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
Please take advantage of this reminder to discuss what screening options are available and what is most appropriate for you with your physician or other healthcare provider.


Dr. Willard is medical director of FirstHealth Outpatient Cancer Center in conjunction with Pinehurst Medical Clinic in Pinehurst. The FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital cancer program is accredited with commendation by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer. For more information, visit