Colorectal cancer is the second most common leading cause of cancer-related deaths and the third most diagnosed cancer in the US. The American Cancer Society estimates a diagnosis of about 151,030 new cases of colorectal cancers in the year 2022.
Colonoscopy has been the gold standard of screening tests for colon cancer for over three decades now. Screening saves lives by preventing cancer and finding cancers early. Death rates from colorectal cancer have been dropping over the last 20 years largely due to these screenings. Colon cancers start as small growths called polyps, that can eventually grow into cancer over years. Polyps can be identified during testing, especially with a colonoscopy. If found small, polyps can be removed completely to prevent cancer. If they are large, they can be sampled and surgically removed, treating cancer at an early stage. Because not enough people are getting screened, only about 4 in 10 are being diagnosed at an early stage. Early-stage cancer detection has a 5-year survival rate of 90%.
With the onset of the global pandemic of COVID-19 infection since early 2020, there has been a dramatic decrease in patient utilization of health care facilities for inpatient and outpatient care. This is due to various reasons, including local mandatory shutdowns of non-emergency services, shortage of health care personnel, shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), and concern for spread of the infection. One specific consequence of this has been a decline in cancer screenings. Any delay in diagnosis could have a major impact on the 5-year survival rate for patients. This amounts to a significant physical, mental, and financial burden.
Studies from the US and UK have shown that in the early stages of the pandemic, screening colonoscopies had dropped to as high as 90% from the previous compared years. If the trend continues, it is estimated that it would lead to nearly 19,000 fewer diagnoses of colorectal cancer, and 4,000 increased deaths nationwide in the US. Referrals to specialists for colonoscopies decreased as much as 50-75% on a month-to-month basis in the UK study.
KMC Gastroenterology is committed to the fight against colon cancer, and we strongly believe prevention is better than a cure. With increasing vaccination efforts and COVID infections slowly decreasing nationwide, we recommend for all our patients to schedule their colonoscopies as soon as possible. Same week appointments available.
Written by Dr. Balaji Datti
Disclaimer: The American Cancer Society recommends people start regular colonoscopy screenings at age 45; however, not all payers have changed their guidelines. Check with your insurance company before scheduling.