Colorectal cancer screening

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. Here’s why Hampton Roads residents should pay attention: The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that the eastern Virginia/northeastern North Carolina region is one of three “hot spots” for colorectal cancer, where death rates from the disease are significantly higher than the rest of the nation.

To that end, the ACS has convened a coalition of representatives from EVMS and the following healthcare systems and organizations in the region to work together to increase colorectal cancer screening:

  • Bon Secours
  • Chesapeake Regional
  • Riverside
  • Sentara Healthcare
  • Virginia Department of Health

The effort is part of the nationwide “80% by 2018” campaign to increase screening rates for colorectal cancer. Achieving that goal could prevent 203,000 colorectal cancer deaths by 2030 in the United States, including 4,882 in Virginia. The National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable estimates that the number of Virginians who need screening to achieve 80 percent by 2018 is 586,600. The current screening rate in Virginia for adults 50 and older is about 75 percent.

To promote the campaign, the regional coalition hosted a free public event Monday, March 13. Cynthia Romero, MD (MD ’93), an EVMS-Sentara Endowed Chair for Academic Leadership Advancement, Director of the EVMS M. Foscue Brock Institute for Community and Global Health and Associate Professor of Family and Community Medicine, presented on behalf of EVMS; Congressman A. Donald McEachin, a colorectal cancer survivor, shared his cancer story; and representatives from other collaborating organizations made presentations.

About one in three adults between 50 and 75 years old — about 23 million people — are not getting tested as recommended. But younger adults can be at risk, too. A study released Feb. 28 reported that over the past 40 years, colorectal cancers have increased dramatically in young and middle-aged adults.

“It is unclear as to why these shifts are evident,” says David Johnson, MD, Chief of Gastroenterology and Professor of Internal Medicine at EVMS. “But they are likely related to trends of obesity, smoking and perhaps lifestyle and diet.”

It is estimated that despite an aging population, by the year 2030, one in 10 colon cancers and nearly one in four rectal cancers will be diagnosed among individuals under age 50.

“All new signs and symptoms, particularly blood in the stool, should be reported to a healthcare provider,” Dr. Johnson says. “Being young is not protection from colorectal cancer.”