The month of March is known as colorectal cancer awareness month. The goal is to raise awareness and talk about prevention. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States and the second leading cause of cancer related deaths. Risk increases with age, therefore it’s important that men and women 50-75 years old are regularly screened. Those under 50 who feel they have an increased risk, should talk to their doctor about early screening. Many deaths resulting from colorectal cancer could have been prevented with regular screening.
What is colorectal cancer and what are the symptoms?
The colon is the large part of the intestine, the end of the digestive tract. A majority of colon cancer cases begin with noncancerous polyps in the colon. They can be in the colon for years before becoming cancerous. Screening can catch precancerous polyps and they can be removed before turning into cancer. In the early stages, colon cancer may present few to no symptoms at all. Possible symptoms include:
⦁ Change in bowel habits
⦁ Rectal bleeding, or blood in stool
⦁ Unintentional weight loss
⦁ Persistent stomach pains, aches, or cramps
⦁ Weakness or fatigue
⦁ A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
What are risk factors for colorectal cancer?
⦁ 50 years and older
⦁ Inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis)
⦁ Family history of colorectal cancer
⦁ Low fiber/ high fat diet
⦁ Sedentary lifestyle
⦁ Excessive alcohol use
Is a colonoscopy the only way to be screened?
While colonoscopy is one way to be screened for colorectal cancer, there are other options as well. Talk to your doctor to decide which test is best for you.
⦁ Stool test- checks stool for blood or cancer cells.
⦁ Flexible sigmoidoscopy- checks for polyps/ cancer in the rectum and lower third of the colon.
⦁ Colonoscopy- checks for polyps/ cancer in rectum and entire colon.
⦁ CT Colonography- a virtual colonoscopy that uses computers to produce images of the entire colon.
Finally, how can I lower my risk for colorectal cancer?
⦁ Cancer screening
⦁ Consume a healthy diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
⦁ Get plenty of physical activity
⦁ Maintain a healthy weight
⦁ Stop smoking
⦁ Drink alcohol in moderation
Spread the word about colorectal cancer to friends and family, not just during the month of March, but all year round! Encourage loved ones 50 years and older to get screened.
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