Colorectal cancer awareness month: What to know


March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, an initiative to encourage education about the disease and preventive screenings. According to the National Cancer Institute, colorectal cancer is the third-most common cancer in the U.S.

Who’s at risk for colorectal cancer?

It affects both men and women, though it’s slightly more common in men, noted the National Cancer Institute. Your risk of developing this cancer also increases as you age, with a diagnosis most commonly made between the age of 65 to 74. Those of African-American descent are also at a higher risk for colorectal cancer.

There’s also a genetic component to colorectal cancer, so if you have a family member previously diagnosed with the disease, you may be at a higher risk. Individuals with inflammatory bowel disease are also more likely to develop cancers of the colon and rectum, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explained.

How do you screen for colorectal cancer?

There are three main types of colorectal cancer screenings. The first examines the bowels with a camera, as in a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy. Secondly, doctors test the stool for indicators of cancer, as in fecal occult blood tests and stool DNA tests. Thirdly, a virtual colonoscopy may be performed, which involves a series of imaging tests that create a virtual picture of the bowel lining.

Discuss with your doctor which test is right for you and when to begin screening. For people with lower risk, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended beginning screening at age 50 and going to age 75. This should continue as the individual wishes. However, if you’re at a higher risk, your physician may suggest beginning screenings sooner.

Why get a screening?

According to the CDC, 140,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with colorectal cancer annually. Also, 50,000 people will die of the disease each year. Screening is important because many deaths can be prevented if the cancer is identified early when it’s more likely to be treated successfully.

Screening is important because colorectal cancers may not cause symptoms, at first. A simple screening can discover these cancerous areas before they spread and lead to more aggressive treatments, and potentially, death.

How do you reduce your risk?

In addition to regular screenings with your doctor, there are certain lifestyle factors that can reduce the likelihood of developing colorectal cancer.

Quitting smoking and excessive alcohol use can cut colon cancer risk, the National Cancer Institute explained. Drinking more than three alcoholic beverages per day is considered excessive and increases cancer potential, as well. Being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight and taking aspirin can decrease colorectal cancer chances. Polyps, which are precancerous growths, should be removed to prevent the abnormal cells from progressing to cancer.

Colorectal cancer awareness month is a great time to discuss your personal risk with your doctor and when you should be screened. It’s also a good opportunity to share this important information with a loved one, as you may be save a life.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

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