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Scientific evidence is showing that with early screening, colorectal cancer is highly treatable and lives can be saved. Let’s raise the awareness to save more lives!
For many of us, cancer is a difficult subject to broach or discuss. However, the importance of raising awareness and educating the public on recent advances in cancer prevention and treatments cannot be overemphasized.
This National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, held in March each year, offers healthcare providers who care for patients with diseases of the colon and rectum, a valuable opportunity to educate their community about these diseases and promote awareness of the importance of colorectal cancer screening, prevention, and treatment. These efforts may also provide a window into the profession and encourage others to consider careers in the field of colon and rectal surgery.
In Malaysia, colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer in males and the third most common cancer in females. The economic burden of colorectal cancer is substantial and is likely to increase over time in Malaysia owing to the current trend in colorectal cancer incidence.
The vast majority of patients with colorectal cancer in Malaysia have been diagnosed at a late stage, with the five-year relative survival by stage being lower than that in developed Asian countries. Public awareness of the rising incidence of colorectal cancer and the participation rates for colorectal cancer screening are low.
But the good news is that we have in the past 20 years witnessed remarkable progress in the early detection and the treatment of colon cancer. As a result, the number of deaths due to colon cancer in many parts of the world has been decreasing every year in both men and women, and there are now more than a million survivors of colon cancer in the United States alone.
Much of this progress has been due to effective screening strategies, including routine colonoscopies, that allow detection of precancerous polyps, which can be removed. Routine colonoscopies also increase the rate of finding cancers in earlier stages, thereby increasing the chance of cure. The most significant part of this progress, however, has been the public’s increased understanding of the behavior of cancer cells at the molecular and genetic levels.
Over the past decade, the discovery of several molecular and genetic abnormalities unique to cancer cells has led to the development of novel therapeutic agents that are able to target the cancer cells while minimizing damages to normal cells in the body.
Furthermore, the unique variations of gene mutations discovered in different cancer cells help separate the more aggressive tumors from those that are less aggressive. As a result, physicians are able to individualize treatment based on the unique genetic and molecular characteristics of the cancer of a particular patient.
Promising developments such as these make this a very exciting time to practice oncology. We have come a long way from the days of conventional intravenous chemotherapy as the primary means of treating all forms of cancer.
The average survival of patients with advanced colorectal cancer has doubled over the past few decades, and these new therapies have led to this improvement in survival time.
Today’s targeted therapies and the rapid pace at which new molecular and genetic targets are being discovered make the prospect of individualized cancer therapy a reality that will soon be realized.
This March, let us come together in a show of support to raise awareness that more and more people are surviving colorectal cancer.