What’s one of the most prevalent and deadly cancers in the United States? If you guessed colorectal cancer, you’d be right. Colorectal cancer is the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer and is the second-leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined in the country. It’s expected to be the cause of about 51,000 deaths this year, according to the American Cancer Society.

Cary Schnitzer, MD, MMM, is the chief medical officer, directing care delivery and population health for OptumCare Network of Arizona.

In Arizona, the number of new colorectal cancer cases is estimated this year to be around 2,840, and a little more than 1,000 of these cases will result in death. According to the Orange County Health Status Profile for 2018, there were 393 colorectal cancer related deaths between 2014 and 2016.    

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so now is the right time to talk about this life-threatening disease.

Colorectal cancer affects both men and women nearly equally and strikes all racial and ethnic groups. However, age is a factor. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 90 percent of people with colon cancer are diagnosed after age 50, and the average age at diagnosis is 72.

The key is detecting colorectal cancer early. According to the American Cancer Society, when colorectal cancer is found at Stage 1, before it has spread, the five-year relative survival rate is about 90 percent. When the cancer progresses and spreads outside the colon or rectum, survival rates are much lower.

There are also lifestyle approaches, especially related to diet and exercise that can lower your risk of colorectal cancer. Being overweight and physically inactive, consuming high amounts of alcohol, and red meat and processed meat have been shown to increase the risk of colorectal cancer.  

In short, colorectal cancer prevention is about staying mindful of the right things to do when it comes to your life: undergo screenings, understand the risk factors, engage in a healthy lifestyle and make healthier choices. 

Why not start this month?


Dr. Cary Schnitzer is chief medical officer with OptumCare Arizona.