Plymouth Meeting, Pa. — On December 1, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network released its publication of the latest NNCN guidelines for patients regarding colorectal cancer screenings.
Colorectal cancer is the fourth most frequently diagnosed cancer in the U.S., with an estimated 104,270 new cases of colon cancer and 43,230 new cases of rectal cancer in 2021. An estimated 52,980 deaths this year are the result of colorectal cancer.
Screening can help catch cancer at an early, treatable stage and even prevent cancer by removing pre-cancerous polyps.
NCCN’s free guide provides information about the ways screenings are performed and recommended screening times based on the latest research. Patient guides are presented in simplified language and formats with charts, images, and medical term glossaries.
The CRC and other cancer screening guides are available on the NCCN website. There are additional guides covering cancer-related distress, nausea and vomiting, and survivorship (both healthy living & cancer-related late and long-term effects), plus special considerations for adolescents and young adults across all cancer types.
“I was lucky that my colon cancer was diagnosed early enough to be successfully treated,” said Heather Matt, a four-year CRC survivor who was first diagnosed at age 35. “I want everyone to know about the importance of screening and how, when caught early, it may save you from having a very different outcome. A little discomfort today can ensure your tomorrow.”
Importance of screening
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer people are attending screenings and healthcare professionals expect to see an increase in late-stage diagnoses later on.
“CRC screening has been shown to be one of the most effective prevention tools for a very common cancer that we know of,” said Reid M. Ness, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Medicine, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, and Chair of the NCCN Guidelines Panel for Colorectal Cancer Screening.
“Studies show that we’ve reduced incidence rates by 40% since 1980, when screening was first recommended in the U.S. At the same time, it’s important to follow the latest evidence to make sure we’re applying screening to the people who can see the most benefit, while not putting anyone at unintended or inappropriate risk from diagnostic procedures and treatment.”
“Recommended screening significantly reduces cancer-related deaths; the numbers are astounding,” agreed panel Vice-Chair Xavier Llor, MD, PhD, Professor, Yale Cancer Center/Smilow Cancer Hospital. “This new patient guideline from NCCN offers a better understanding of the scientific research for the larger community. It provides a foundation for shared decision-making with patients and caregivers so we find the right screening fit for everyone.”
Recently updated recommendations
In early 2021, the NCCN Guidelines for Colorectal Screening were updated to recommend screening begin possibly as young as 45 years of age for people at average risk, and includes additional recommendations for those with higher risk. Additionally, some follow-up screenings can safely be delayed for seven to ten years. The research is evolving rapidly and even primary care physicians may not be up-to-date on the latest expert consensus.
Drs. Llor and Ness both stressed that patients at any age who experience symptoms should be evaluated for colorectal cancer. Some of those symptoms include:
- Rectal bleeding
- Changes in bowel habits
- Persistent stomach pain
- Unexplained weight loss
The panel also wanted to honor the significant contributions from longtime NCCN Guidelines Panel Chair, Dawn Provenzale, MD, of Duke Cancer Institute, who passed away earlier this year.
Learn more and help support these and other resources for people with cancer and their caregivers at NCCN.org/patients.