2012 Missing the Message Colon Cancer Report

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Missing the Message: A Report on Colon Cancer Detection In New Jersey, 2012

Summary: Although more New Jerseyans are being screened for colon cancer compared to 10 years ago, a significant number of colon cancers still are being found at a later stage.

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in New Jersey.  It doesn't need to be. The earlier colon cancer is found the better the chances of survival. The good news is that more people in New Jersey are taking advantage of screening tools available; but a large percentage are still finding their colon cancers at a later stage. In New Jersey, many colon cancers are still being detected at later stages when survival rates are lower.

When colon cancers are detected at an early, localized stage, the 5-year survival is 90 percent. After the cancer has spread regionally to involve adjacent organs or lymph nodes, the 5-year survival rate drops to 68 percent. For persons with distant metastases, the 5-year survival is 10 percent. A recent study confirms that one screening test, colonoscopy, can prevent colon cancer from ever developing. It allows doctors to detect and remove precancerous polyps before they become life-threatening malignancies. Use of this test has increased significantly over the past 10 years. The data shows that the incidence of colorectal cancer in New Jersey declined by 21.8 percent since the mid-1990s. Experts attribute the decline to increased screening rates.

Statewide: In New Jersey, 57% of Colorectal Cancers are Detected at a Later Stage. 

The latest statewide data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey show that in 2010, 65 percent of New Jerseyansover 50 reported having had one of the tests recommended by the American Cancer Society: fecal occult blood tests or sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.[1] Tragically, this rate is not high enough since 57 percent of colon cancers in the state are diagnosed at later stages (2004-2008).

Local: While Screening Rates Have Been Improving, Much More Needs To Be Done.  In Nearly Every County, Half of All Colon Cancers are Found at Later Stages.

The accompanying table outlines rates of later stage (regional or distant stage) cancer by county throughout the state. These data reveal that in nearly all counties, more than half of all cancer diagnoses are later stage, when there are fewer treatment options and survival rates are lower.

Care should be taken in interpreting the rates presented. The actual number of cases in most counties is relatively small and the rates presented have wide margins of error, meaning that differences among counties may be due in part or entirely to statistical chance.

The Tests: There are several screening tests for colon and rectum cancer. Each has advantages and drawbacks, relative to the others.

Tests that find polyps and cancer:

  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy: A slender, flexible, hollow, lighted tube is inserted through the rectum into the colon by a trained examiner. The sigmoidoscope is about 2 feet long (60 cm) and provides a visual examination of the rectum and lower one-third of the colon (sigmoid colon). Simple bowel cleansing, usually with enemas, is necessary to prepare the colon, and the procedure is typically performed without sedation. If there is a polyp or tumor present, the patient is referred for a colonoscopy so that the colon can be examined further. This test should be done every five years.
  • Colonoscopy: This procedure allows for direct visual examination of the colon and rectum. A colonoscope is similar to a sigmoidoscope, but is a much longer, more complex instrument, allowing visualization of the entire colon and removal of polyps if present. Before undergoing a colonoscopy, patients are instructed to take special laxative agents to completely cleanse the colon. Seda­tion is usually provided during the examination to minimize discomfort. If a polyp is found, it may be removed by passing a wire loop through the colonoscope to cut the polyp from the wall of the colon using an electric current. Studies show that colonoscopy is the most sensitive method for the detection of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps and the most effective in preventing death from colon cancer. This test should be done every ten years.
  • Barium enema with air contrast: This procedure, which allows complete radiological examination of the colon, is also called a double-contrast barium enema (DCBE). Barium sulfate is introduced into the colon through the rectum and is allowed to spread throughout to partially fill and open the colon. Air is then introduced to expand the colon and increase the quality of x-rays that are taken. This method is less sensitive than colonoscopy for visualizing small polyps or cancers. If a polyp or other abnormality is seen, the patient should be referred for a colonoscopy so that the colon can be examined further. Use of DCBE for colorectal cancer screen­ing is very uncommon today due to the increased availability of colonoscopy. This test should be done every five years.
  • Computed tomographic colonography (CTC): Also referred to as virtual colonoscopy, this imaging procedure was introduced in the 1990s and results in detailed, cross-sectional, 2- or 3- dimensional views of the entire colon and rectum with the use of a special x-ray machine linked to a computer. Although a full bowel cleansing is necessary for a successful examination, CTC does not require sedation. A small, flexible tube is inserted into the rectum in order to allow air or carbon dioxide to open the colon; then the patient passes through the CT scanner, which creates multiple images of the interior colon. CTC is less invasive than other screening techniques, requires no recovery time, and typically takes approximately 10 to 15 minutes to complete. Patients with polyps of significant size (larger than 5 mm) or other abnormal results are referred for colonoscopy, sometimes on the same day in order to alleviate the necessity of a second bowel preparation. Studies have shown that the performance of CTC is similar to optical colonoscopy for the detection of invasive. This test is done every five years.

Tests that mainly find cancer:

  • Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT): Cancerous tumors and some large polyps bleed intermittently into the intestine. The FOBT can detect very small quantities of blood in stool. The FOBT kit is obtained from a health care provider for use at home. Bleeding from colorectal cancer may be intermittent or undetectable, so accurate test results require annual testing that consists of collecting 2 to 3 samples (depending on the product) from consecutive bowel movements. Patients who have a positive FOBT or FIT are referred for a colonoscopy to rule out the presence of polyps or cancer. Studies have shown that the regular use of these screening methods reduces the risk of death from colorectal cancer by 15% to 33%. In addition, FOBT has also been shown to decrease by 20% the incidence of colorectal cancer by detecting large polyps, resulting in their subsequent removal by colonoscopy. It is important to note that the effectiveness of FOBT is dependent on repeated screenings over time; a recent study indicated that a majority of patients who choose this testing option fail to adhere to a regular testing schedule. The recommended frequency is once a year.

 


Incidence Rates

Mortality Rates

Percent Diagnosed at Later Stage

County

1994-1998

2004-2008

% Change Over Time

1994-1998

2004-2008

% Change Over Time

1994-1998

2004-2008

% Change Over Time

New Jersey

65.6

51.3

-21.8%

25.4

18.7

-26.4%

62.5%

57.1%

-8.6%

Atlantic

69.4

53.5

-22.9%

27.9

18.8

-32.6%

54.6%

48.9%

-10.6%

Bergen

64.5

47.9

-25.7%

24.7

17.3

-30.0%

61.4%

56.1%

-8.6%

Burlington

68.4

52.6

-23.1%

25.4

19.1

-24.8%

63.9%

58.0%

-9.2%

Camden

67.8

55.0

-18.9%

24.8

19.8

-20.2%

63.2%

55.7%

-11.9%

Cape May

68.8

52.4

-23.8%

24.5

21.3

-13.1%

61.0%

55.6%

-8.8%

Cumberland

59.1

50.7

-14.2%

25.8

21.0

-18.6%

60.3%

53.4%

-11.4%

Essex

64.3

49.8

-22.6%

25.7

20.1

-21.8%

60.6%

55.6%

-8.3%

Gloucester

70.5

56.1

-20.4%

27.6

20.9

-24.3%

59.6%

54.0%

-9.3%

Hudson

66.8

52.3

-21.7%

28.2

20.5

-27.3%

63.1%

56.9%

-9.8%

Hunterdon

67.3

44.6

-33.7%

25.0

16.8

-32.8%

58.6%

61.2%

4.5%

Mercer

64.8

52.3

-19.3%

26.4

17.7

-33.0%

65.1%

52.2%

-19.9%

Middlesex

65.0

50.8

-21.8%

25.8

17.0

-34.1%

65.4%

61.1%

-6.6%

Monmouth

68.4

51.7

-24.4%

27.2

19.2

-29.4%

64.8%

60.8%

-6.2%

Morris

65.3

48.8

-25.3%

22.3

17.2

-22.9%

63.5%

57.0%

-10.4%

Ocean

67.1

53.9

-19.7%

23.5

19.5

-17.0%

65.9%

62.3%

-5.4%

Passaic

62.1

47.3

-23.8%

26.3

19.7

-25.1%

61.3%

52.3%

-14.7%

Salem

69.5

53.0

-23.7%

31.6

19.1

-39.6%

52.6%

48.1%

-8.6%

Somerset

54.7

50.3

-8.0%

22.8

16.1

-29.4%

64.3%

61.8%

-3.9%

Sussex

65.9

51.9

-21.2%

26.2

18.9

-27.9%

60.8%

60.4%

-0.7%

Union

63.8

52.6

-17.6%

24.4

18.4

-24.6%

63.6%

57.1%

-10.2%

Warren

68.0

50.9

-25.1%

23.4

16.9

-27.8%

52.4%

53.7%

2.5%

 


[1] New Jersey Dept. of Health & Senior Services, State Cancer Registry, 2011 and American Cancer Society Facts & Figures, 2011

 



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