Identifying a positive health trend for NJ residents, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) reports both the incidence and death rate of colon cancer have decreased about 3% in recent years. As one of the most common types of cancer in both men and women, this downward trend brings hope for survivors, families and newly diagnosed patients alike. Dr. Bhavesh Balar, an oncology and hematology specialist at RCCA Monmouth in New Jersey, describes some of the factors contributing to colon cancer diagnoses and strategies to help individuals lower their risk even more.
Declining Colon Cancer Rates In New Jersey
The primary reason for declining rates, Dr. Balar cites, is that there are better treatment options available to colon cancer patients than there were historically. “In my fellowship 10-12 years [ago], I think we had three or four drugs that we could use to treat colon cancer,” he explains, “now, I believe we have seven.”
Not only is cancer medication improving in quality and prevalence, but so are supplemental drugs. Even though chemotherapy is often the standard of care for treating colon cancer, it can cause a host of unpleasant side effects. Improvements in supportive drugs, however, help patients tolerate the side effects better than ever before.
While it’s still not known why some patients are more likely to get colon cancer than others, especially as it pertains to varied rates in men and women, Dr. Balar notes that it may be due to differences in diet – particularly red meat intake – and a willingness to get screened.
Even so, the 3% decrease is helping patients see real results. “The average survival for metastatic colon cancer used to be 12 months. It’s now 2-1/2 years – so people are living significantly longer, even with Stage IV colon cancer,” Dr. Balar says.
The Importance Of Early Detection
In addition to innovative treatments, a critical component of successfully preventing, treating and beating colon cancer is early detection. The earlier a patient is diagnosed, the more likely they are to survive. On the other hand, patients who are diagnosed with distant stages – when the cancer has grown and/or metastasized – may only have about a 13% chance of survival, according to information compiled by the American Cancer Society.
Because colon cancer is known for its slow development – growth typically occurs over a 10- to 20-year period – there is a large window in which preventative screenings can take place. An average person should go for their first colonoscopy around age 50, says Dr. Balar. However, your medical and family history may put you at an increased risk for developing colon cancer. If so, Dr. Balar explains, your gastroenterologist may recommend you get checked earlier and more frequently than the average patient.
During a colonoscopy, the gastroenterologist may be able to detect and remove polyps, which are noncancerous growths. However, if the growths are not removed, they may eventually develop into colon cancer. That’s why patients should always make it a priority to go for their colonoscopy. By removing these polyps, you are taking a major step toward preventing colon cancer, explains Dr. Balar.
Another reason why screenings are so important is because colon cancer often presents with few or no symptoms. Dr. Balar recommends checking your stool for blood or perhaps going for a DNA test. Even so, you should not wait for the symptoms to appear; always go for your regular screenings.
Get The Care You Need
Overall, Dr. Balar believes that increased screening and awareness of colon cancer have helped improve survival rates and may continue to do so in the future. This, combined with tireless research and dedicated care, can hopefully maintain that 3% decline and potentially lower the incidence and death rates even more.
If you’d like to learn more about colon cancer and/or schedule a colonoscopy, contact one of the 21 RCCA New Jersey offices located throughout the state to receive state-of-the-art care and treatment.