March Is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Author: Jonathan Marsh

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of U.S. cancer deaths affecting both men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, about 140,000 Americans receive a colorectal cancer diagnosis each year—more than 50,000 people die from it annually, the CDC reports. One in 22 men and one in 24 women will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in their lifetime, the American Cancer Society reports.

Although those numbers are scary, the good news is that colorectal cancer is highly preventable. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so this is a perfect time to spread the word about the diagnosis and prevention of colorectal cancer.

Here are a few more colorectal cancer facts:

  • More than 90% of colorectal cancers occur in people age 50 or older.
  • Many times, there are no symptoms of colorectal cancer, at least at first. That’s why screening is so important.
  • When symptoms do occur, they include blood in the stool, stomach pain that doesn’t go away, and unexplained weight loss.
  • Your risk for colorectal cancer increases if there is a family history. Although the general population has a lifetime risk of about 5%, those with a family history have a 10% to 15% chance of developing colorectal cancer, according to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS). “The risk rises to over 50% in people with ulcerative colitis and those whose family members harbor specific genetic mutations,” the society reports.
  • Although colorectal cancer affects all ethnicities and races, African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to be diagnosed in advanced stages.

Here are some tips to help prevent colorectal cancer.

  1. Get screened. A colonoscopy is an effective way to screen for colorectal cancer. The general recommendation is to start these at age 50 and to have one every 10 years through age 75 (after that, ask your doctor what he or she recommends). However, African American men may be advised to start at age 45. There are other screening methods, including blood tests, stool DNA tests, and virtual colonoscopies. “Colorectal cancer can be cured in up to 90 percent of people when it is discovered in its early stages,” the ASCRS reports. “It is estimated that approximately 40,000 lives a year could be saved through widespread adoption of colorectal cancer screening and early treatment in men and women.”  
  1. Don’t smoke. If you already light up, work with your health care providers to find ways to stop.
  2. Make a regular commitment to move more. Physical activity is an excellent way to guard against many types of cancer, including colorectal cancer.
  3. Eat a balanced, healthy diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables.

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