Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

Colon cancer screening is not just for superheroes

3/1/2021 by Joseph Furst, M.D.


Superheroes are fictional. Although that's true, they have a way of seeming real in our society and in our families. Cancer screening is easy to put off — until in some way, it becomes more real. 

When the actor who played T'Challa in the movie "Black Panther" passed away with colon cancer, we were all shocked. Chadwick Boseman appeared healthy. After all, he was a superhero, and yet he died at 43. 

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that in 2021, 104,270 new cases of colon cancer will occur, along with 45,230 cases of rectal cancer. From 2013 to 2017, the ACS noted the incidence rates dropped by about 1% each year, because people were getting screened. The downward trend, however, was mostly in older adults, and it masked the rising incidence among younger adults. From 2012 to 2015, the incidence increased annually by 2% in people younger than 50 and 1% in people 50 to 64. The lifetime risk of colorectal cancer is 1 in 23 for men and 1 in 25 for women. Colorectal cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related death in men and women, and the second-most common cause of cancer death when men and women are measured together. The death rate has been falling for several decades because people are getting screened, but 52,980 deaths are expected during 2021. So, screening works. 

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for colon cancer from 50 to 75, while ACS recommends starting at 45. A family history could change that recommendation depending on what age a first-degree relative was affected. Screening is done for people without symptoms. People with symptoms would undergo testing depending on their individual situation. Symptoms can include:

  • Change in bowel habit, including diarrhea or constipation
  • Change in the consistency of your stool lasting longer than four weeks
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
  • Persistent abdominal pain
  • Feeling of incomplete evacuation
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

Screening can include testing for colon cancer DNA and blood in the stool, CT colonography, as well as colonoscopy. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and March 5 is Dress in Blue Day. By wearing blue, you bring awareness to this disease. 

So — be a superhero, have a conversation with your care team, and get screened. 

Joseph Furst, M.D., is a member of Care Team Charlie at Mayo Family Clinic Southeast in Rochester, Minnesota. He and his extended family participate in Colon Cancer Coalition running events to raise money for research to honor his mother who passed away from colon cancer, and a brother who is a colon cancer survivor. The Rochester "Get Your Rear in Gear" race event is scheduled for June 24 (estimated).