The most powerful tool we have against colorectal cancer is awareness: an understanding of what the disease is, of the need to prevent it and diagnose it early, and of how best to accomplish those goals.
Colorectal cancer is an insidious disease. The second leading cause of cancer death in our country, it tends to grow without symptoms until it is advanced, requiring harsh treatment regimens and lowering the chances of cure.
It’s reassuring to know that our toolbox of early detection and treatments continues to grow, and that survival of patients with metastatic disease has nearly tripled over the past 20 years as a result. But outcomes still need a major boost, particularly in later-stage disease. For now, the most powerful tool we have against colorectal cancer is awareness: an understanding of what the disease is, of the need to prevent it and diagnose it early, and of how best to accomplish those goals.
The month of March, declared Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month by presidential proclamation, gave our nation a tailor-made chance to make sure that information was heard, and hopefully to help control this disease in the easiest possible ways—through prevention, screening and early treatment.
As part of the effort, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services called on communities, residents and organizations to share information about colorectal cancer. Specifically, the department asked everyone to pass along a handful of messages: families should exercise together, people age 50 and older should be screened, and health care practitioners should remind those eligible about screening.
To follow up on Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, our coverage in this special issue of CURE underscores those messages. We spotlight suspected risk factors for the disease—such as eating a diet high in red meats and fats, smoking and having a sedentary lifestyle. And we point out how crucial awareness is for younger adults, whose rate of colorectal cancer has been rising by 1.5 percent each year, but who are too young to be regularly screened.
Most importantly, we discuss evidence-based screening for those aged 50 or older, and the reluctance or fear that sometimes convinces people to skip their colonoscopies. Yet the argument in favor of taking the test should really be quite convincing: If everyone over 50 in our country underwent screening for colorectal cancer, a whopping 60 percent of deaths from the disease could be prevented.
We are also taking this opportunity to delve into an array of subjects important to those affected by colorectal cancer. In this special issue, we take a close look at benefits and side effects of approved treatments for every stage of the disease, as well as at promising experimental treatments. We examine the causes, management and outcomes of hereditary forms of colorectal cancer and explore survivorship and caregiver issues, including learning to live with an ostomy and maintaining relationships despite the changes the disease and its treatment can bring.
Nationwide, a general awareness of colorectal cancer and prevention measures will change things for the better. Within the colorectal cancer community, where awareness is already high, we hope this more comprehensive exploration of the workings and outcomes of the disease will serve as a helpful resource.