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March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates  the number of colorectal cancer cases in the United States for 2020 are 104,610 new cases of colon cancer and 43,340 new cases of rectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer occurs when abnormal cells form tumors in normal tissues of the intestines and digestive system. Your intestines are made up of two primary parts: the colon (large intestine) which measures between five and six feet long, beginning at the cecum and ending at the anus. The last five to 10 inches of the colon are known as the rectum. Cancer that affects the rectum is known as rectal cancer, while cancer in the remainder of the colon is colon cancer. The umbrella term for both types of cancers in those areas is colorectal cancer.

Unfortunately, colorectal cancer doesn’t always display symptoms right away, however if you are experiencing any of the following, you should consult your physician and have them checked:

  • Diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, lasting for more than three days
  • Constant feeling of need to have a bowel movement, with no relief by having one
  • Bright red rectal bleeding
  • Blood in the stool, giving it a dark complexion
  • Cramping or abdominal pain
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss

In addition, there are some factors that have been shown to increase your risk for developing colorectal cancer:

Risk factors you cannot control:

  • History of colorectal cancer or polyps.If you’ve already had colon cancer or noncancerous colon polyps, you have a greater risk of colon cancer in the future.
  • African-American race.African-Americans have a greater risk of colon cancer than do people of other races.
  • Inflammatory intestinal conditions.Chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, can increase your risk of colon cancer.
  • Inherited syndromes that increase colon cancer risk.Some gene mutations passed through generations of your family can increase your risk of colon cancer significantly. Only a small percentage of colon cancers are linked to inherited genes. The most common inherited syndromes that increase colon cancer risk are familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and Lynch syndrome, which is also known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC).
  • Family history of colon cancer.You’re more likely to develop colon cancer if you have a blood relative who has had the disease. If more than one family member has colon cancer or rectal cancer, your risk is even greater.
  • People with diabetes or insulin resistance have an increased risk of colon cancer.
  • Radiation therapy for cancer.Radiation therapy directed at the abdomen to treat previous cancers increases the risk of colon cancer.

Risk factors within your control:

  • Low-fiber, high-fat diet.Colon cancer and rectal cancer may be associated with a typical Western diet, which is low in fiber and high in fat and calories. Research in this area has had mixed results. Some studies have found an increased risk of colon cancer in people who eat diets high in red meat and processed meat.
  • A sedentary lifestyle.People who are inactive are more likely to develop colon cancer. Getting regular physical activity may reduce your risk of colon cancer.
  • People who are obese have an increased risk of colon cancer and an increased risk of dying of colon cancer when compared with people considered normal weight.
  • People who smoke may have an increased risk of colon cancer.
  • Heavy use of alcohol increases your risk of colon cancer.

There are quite a few myths surrounding colorectal cancer that can prevent people from getting screened for the disease. It is important to be equipped with the right information when it comes to your health.

Myth: Colorectal cancer is a “man’s” disease

Fact:  Colorectal cancer is the 2nd leading cause of cancer death among men and women combined in the United States.  Though many people believe that colorectal cancer primarily affects men, the overall lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer for women (1 in 24) is only slightly lower than it is for men (1 in 22). Age is a much bigger risk factor than sex.

Myth: Colorectal cancer is a disease for the older population.

Fact:  While it’s true that more than 90% of instances of colorectal cancer occur in people over the age of 50, the American Cancer Society recently changed their guidelines to recommend screenings starting earlier, at age 45. Since 2001, there has been average annual increase of 2.1 percent in young onset colorectal cancer compared to a decrease of 2.5 percent yearly for those 50 and older. Rectal cancer cases specifically increased even more rapidly in younger patients at an average annual change of 3.9 percent.

Myth: A colonoscopy will hurt.

Fact: A colonoscopy is an exam used to detect changes or abnormalities in the colon and rectum. During a colonoscopy, a long, flexible tube called a colonoscope is inserted into the rectum. A tiny video camera at the tip of the tube allows the doctor to view the inside of the entire colon. Though a colonoscopy sounds as though it could be uncomfortable or hurt, it is actually painless.

To prepare for the procedure, you’ll have to avoid solid foods and take a bowel-cleaning substance the day before the procedure to clear your colon. During the procedure, you’ll receive a sedating medication to make you more comfortable, and most people can return to their normal activities that same day. All in all, the hassle is worth it. Precancerous polyps can be removed during the procedure, which is much easier than treating late-stage colon cancer, which may involve surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy.

Between 2000 and 2014, death rates for colorectal cancer dropped 34% among patients 50 and older. By continuing to spread the word about the importance of risk factors, healthy lifestyle and regular screenings, we can bring the number of deaths closer to zero.  With regular screenings as recommended by your doctor and simple lifestyle changes, you can lower your risk of colorectal cancer. If you or someone you know has a family history of colon, rectal, or other cancers, we encourage you to contact CCHC Southern Gastroenterology Associates at 252-726-7111.