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March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Colorectal Cancer: Preventable and Treatable with Proper Screening

The CDC reports that, among cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. Each year, approximately 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than 50,000 people die from the disease.

In February 2000, President Clinton officially dedicated March as National Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Since then, it has grown to be a rallying point for the colon cancer community where thousands of patients, survivors, caregivers, and advocates throughout the country join together to spread awareness by wearing blue, holding fundraising and education events, talking to friends and family about screening, and so much more.

According to the website Fight Colorectal Cancer, colorectal cancer (CRC) occurs when abnormal cells form tumors in normal tissues of the intestines and digestive system. The exact type of “colon” or “rectal” cancer found depends on where the abnormal cells first began and how fast they grew and spread. Colorectal cancer is the term encompassing both cancer types.

Thankfully, as the Prevent Cancer Foundation explains, with certain types of screening this cancer can be prevented by removing polyps before they become cancerous. In fact, several screening tests detect CRC early, when it can be easily and successfully treated.

Are You at Risk?

Ask yourself the following questions to see if you’re at risk for developing colorectal cancer:

  1. Are you aged 50 or older?
  2. Do you smoke or use tobacco?
  3. Do you drink alcohol in excess?
  4. Do you eat a lot of red or processed meat?
  5. Are you overweight or obese?
  6. Do you or a family member have a history of colon polyps?
  7. Do you or a family member have a history of colon cancer?
  8. Do you have a chronic inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease?
  9. Do you or a family member have a history of ovarian, endometrial, or stomach cancer?
  10. Are you of African American or Hispanic descent?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you could be at risk of developing this disease. Talk to your healthcare provider about getting screened for CRC. (Screening means getting tested for a disease even if you don’t have symptoms).

Know the Symptoms

Symptoms of the disease may go unnoticed in the early stages, according to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, but, as the disease progresses, the symptoms may be easier to recognize and could severely increase with time. These symptoms include:

  • Bleeding from the rectum or blood in or on the stool;
  • Change in bowel habits;
  • Stools that are more narrow than usual;
  • General problems in the abdomen, such as bloating, fullness, or cramps;
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or a feeling in the rectum that the bowel movement isn’t quite complete;
  • Weight loss for no apparent reason;
  • Being tired all the time; and
  • Vomiting.

Discover Your Screening Options

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that adults aged 50 to 75 be screened for CRC. The decision to be screened after age 75 should be made on an individual basis. If you are aged 76 to 85, ask your doctor if you should be screened. Several different tests can be used to find polyps or colorectal cancer. They include:
The Guaiac-based Fecal Occult Blood Test (gFOBT) uses the chemical guaiac to detect blood in stool. At home, you use a stick or brush to obtain a small amount of stool. You return the test to the doctor or a lab, where stool samples are checked for blood.

The Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) uses antibodies to detect blood in the stool. You receive a test kit from your health care provider. This test is done the same way as gFOBT.

The FIT-DNA test (or Stool DNA test) combines the FIT with a test to detect altered DNA in stool. You collect an entire bowel movement and send it to a lab to be checked for cancer cells.

With a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy (Flex Sig) test, the doctor inserts a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube into your rectum, and checks for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon.

A colonoscopy is similar to flexible sigmoidoscopy, except the doctor uses a longer, thin, flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon. During the test, the doctor can find and remove most polyps and some cancers. Colonoscopy also is used as a follow-up test if anything unusual is found during one of the other screening tests.

A computed tomography (CT) colonography, also called a virtual colonoscopy, uses X-rays and computers to produce images of the entire colon. The images are displayed on a computer screen for the doctor to analyze.

Give Yourself a Fighting Chance

Nearly all colorectal cancers begin as precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. Such polyps can be present in the colon for years before invasive cancer develops, but they may not cause any symptoms. CRC screening can find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before turning into cancer. In this way, CRC is prevented. Screening can also find colorectal cancer early, when there is a greater chance that treatment will be most effective and lead to a cure.

Research is underway at the CDC to find out if changes to diet can reduce the risk of CRC. Medical experts don’t agree on the role of diet in preventing colorectal cancer, but often recommend a diet low in animal fats and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to reduce the risk of other chronic diseases, such as coronary artery disease and diabetes. This diet may also reduce the risk of CRC. Researchers are also examining the role of certain medicines and supplements in preventing the disease.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force found that taking low-dose aspirin can help prevent cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer in some adults, depending on age and risk factors. Other studies suggest the risk of CRC can be reduced by increasing physical activity, limiting alcohol consumption, and avoiding tobacco.

Overall, the most effective way to reduce your risk of CRC is by having regular screening tests beginning at age 50.

For more information on screenings for colorectal cancer, call the CCHC Endoscopy Center in New Bern, at (252) 514-6644. A team of doctors and other health care providers are ready to discuss any concerns you may have.


(Sources: Colon Cancer Alliance; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeon; Prevent Cancer Foundation; Cancer Treatment Centers of America; and American Cancer Society.)