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Originally published: 2014-03-24 09:30:45
Last modified: 2014-03-24 09:38:59

March Is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

by Sherrie Norris

During March, a concentrated effort is being made by healthcare professionals across the country to raise awareness about colorectal cancer.

While it might be a less than desirable subject of discussion for many people, it's not something that should be ignored, medical professionals say.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, among cancers that affect both men and women.

Every year, about 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than 50,000 people die from the disease.



The risks increase with age

Statistics indicate that more than 90 percent of colorectal cancer cases occur in people 50 years of age or older, confirming that the disease increases with age. Screening for the cancer can save lives, but many people are not being tested.

If colorectal cancer is discovered early, treatment often leads to a cure. Precancerous polyps are usually detected through screening, and their subsequent removal can prevent cancer from occurring at all.  

According to information provided by the Seby B. Jones Cancer Center in Boone, more than a million people in the U.S. currently count themselves as survivors of colon or rectum cancer because of improvements in prevention, early detection and treatment. 



Are you at risk? 

Some people are at a higher risk than others for developing colorectal cancer. Having any of the following may increase your risk:
- Inflammatory bowel disease.
- Crohn's disease, or ulcerative colitis.
- A personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps.
- A genetic syndrome, such as familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer.

The recently released 2014 Surgeon General's Report, The Health Consequences of Smoking -- 50 Years of Progress, concluded that smoking causes colorectal cancer. If you smoke, your risk for this cancer, as well as others, will be lowered if you quit smoking completely. T. Flint Gray, oncologist at the Seby B. Jones Cancer Center, offers the following tips to reduce your risk for colorectal cancer:
- Eat a healthy diet -- low fat, low sugar and high fiber.
- Get a colonoscopy screening at age 50, or earlier, if you have a family history.
- Look for any changes in your bowl movements -- i.e., blood in the stool.

Other things you can do to help lower risks, according to the CDC, include the following:

- Increasing intensity and amount of your physical activity.
- Avoiding obesity and weight gain around the midsection.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
People at high risk for colorectal cancer may need earlier or more frequent tests than other people. Talk to your doctor about when to begin screening.


Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

Precancerous polyps and colorectal cancer don't always cause symptoms, especially at first. You could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it. That is why having a screening test is so important. Symptoms for colorectal cancer may include, but are not limited to:

- Blood in or on the stool (bowel movement).
- Stomach pain, aches or cramps that do not go away.
- A feeling that you still need to have a bowel movement that doesn't go away after you have one.- Losing weight and you don't know why.
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool, that lasts more than a few days.
- A low red blood count (anemia) without another obvious explanation. 
These symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer, but the only sure way to know is through testing ordered by a physician. 



Screening Saves Lives

If you're 50 or older, getting a colorectal cancer-screening test could save your life. Here's how:

- Colorectal cancer usually starts from polyps in the colon or rectum. A polyp is a growth that shouldn't be there and over time, some polyps can turn into cancer.
- Screening tests can find polyps, so they can be removed before they turn into cancer.- Screening tests also can find colorectal cancer early. When it is found early, the chance of being cured is good.



What Are the Screening Tests for Colorectal Cancer?

Several tests are available to screen for colorectal cancer. Some are used alone, and others are used in combination with each other. Talk with your doctor about which test or tests are best for you. 

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends these tests to screen for colorectal cancer:

- Colonoscopy (every 10 years)
- High-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT), stool test, or fecal immuno chemical test (FIT) (every year).- Sigmoidoscopy (every five years, with FOBT every three years).
If you think you may be at high risk for colorectal cancer, talk to your doctor about when, and how often, to get tested.

For more information, contact The American Cancer Society at (800) 227-2345 or visit http://www.cancer.org; American Institute for Cancer Research, (800) 843-8114, http://www.aicr.org; Colon Cancer Alliance, (877) 422- 2030, http://www.ccalliance.org.

To learn more about Seby B. Jones Cancer Center, visit http://www.apprhs.org/cancercenter.