March: Time to get in the know about colorectal cancer

colorectalBy Karina Mazhukhina

March is national colorectal cancer awareness month. This means if you or someone you love is 50 or older, now’s a perfect time to discuss screening with your physician.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the U.S., of cancers that affect both men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Regular screening, however, can allow for the prevention of colon cancer before it starts. Since more than 90 percent of cases occur in both women and men who are age 50 and older, it’s important for individuals in this age range to get screened, even if no symptoms are noticed.

As part of the screening process, doctors look for abnormal growths in the colon or rectum. If any are found, they are often removed before they can turn into cancer. Screening also helps detect early-stage colorectal cancer, increasing the chances of a successful treatment.

People are at higher risk of developing colon cancer if they have:

  • A close relative who has/had abnormal growths in the colon or rectum, or a history of colorectal cancer
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis
  • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), an inherited disorder in which growths or polyps may develop in the colon
  • Lynch syndrome, an inherited disorder that increases the risk of many types of cancer, including colorectal cancer

Though medical experts disagree whether diet plays a significant role in preventing colon cancer, researchers are still trying to find out whether diet and other lifestyle factors may be contributors.

Just as genetics can play a role in risk of colorectal cancer, emerging research has shown a link between variations in individual genetics and serious side effects of colorectal cancer treatments such as 5-fluorouracil (5–FU) and capecitabine.

People who have variations in the dihydropyrimidine dehydrogenase (DPYD) gene that result in reduced activity of the gene would process 5-FU and capecitabine more slowly than normal. This could potentially lead to toxicity, such as low white blood cell, platelets, and red blood cell counts, mucositis, neurotoxicity, hand-foot syndrome and diarrhea.

When doctors prescribe medicine, it’s important for them to know how a patient’s genetic variations may impact drug response. Knowing which drugs patients can effectively metabolize can create better-targeted treatments.

Genelex offers 28 tests for gene variations, including those for variations in the gene DPYD. Learn more here about the wide array of genetic tests Genelex has available, and how to obtain the necessary prescription from your doctor.

To find out more about colorectal cancer, visit the websites of the CDC and the Colon Cancer Alliance.