March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

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March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

What do I need to know?

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death for both men and women combined in the United States. One in every 20 Americans will face colorectal cancer.[i]

Colorectal cancer is most often found in patients over the age of 50, but can occur in people of any age. Protect yourself by knowing the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer, your family cancer history and your medical history, especially since certain medical conditions can increase your colorectal cancer risk.[ii]

Beginning at age 50, or if you show signs of colorectal cancer, it’s important to have a colonoscopy to check for polyps or cancerous cells. Regular colonoscopy screenings can help prevent polyps and precancerous growths from progressing into cancer.

Colorectal cancer is preventable. You can help save lives by raising awareness and getting people to get screened. This March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Take action and join in the national movement to fight colorectal cancer.

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Am I at risk?

Talk with your doctor if you have risk factors for colorectal cancer. Together, you can determine when and how frequently to start getting colonoscopies. Risk factors include:[iii]

  • Age: Most colorectal cancers occur after age 50
  • History of Cancer: Colon polyps or cancer, rectal cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, or breast cancer can increase your risk of colorectal cancer occurrences
  • Inflammatory bowel disorder (IBD)
  • Genetic Conditions: Familiar Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) and Lynch Syndrome, also known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), increase colorectal cancer risk
  • Family History: If you or a family member has had colorectal cancer, colonoscopy screening is typically recommended ten years before the survivor’s age of diagnosis 

What are some of the symptoms of colorectal cancer?

Sometimes, colorectal cancer may not show any signs or symptoms at all, which is why screening is so important. However, there are symptoms that you should bring to your doctor’s attention right away.[iv]

  • Change in bowel habits
  • Narrow stools
  • Blood in the stool
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Frequent gas pain, bloating, or fullness
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue and weakness

What do I do if I have symptoms of colorectal cancer?

Talk to your doctor. Together you can decide if your risk factors and/or symptoms suggest that an individualized screening plan is right for you. If you are over the age of 50, plan on having a colonoscopy regularly. Screenings may include:

Colonoscopy

Detects: irritation, swelling, ulcers, polyps or cancer in the rectum and colon

Description: A light and camera at the end of a thin, flexible tube (scope) are used to look inside the rectum and colon.[v]

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EGD with Colonoscopy

Detects: irritation, swelling, ulcers, polyps or cancer in the upper and lower GI tract

Description: An EGD, or upper endoscopy, uses a scope inserted via the mouth to inspect the esophagus, stomach and small intestines. During the colonoscopy, a scope is placed via the rectum to look inside the large intestine, rectum and colon.[vi]

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Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

Detects: irritation, swelling, ulcers, or polyps in the rectum and sigmoid (lower) colon

Description: A light and camera at the end of a thin, flexible tube are used to look inside the rectum and sigmoid colon (the last part of the large bowel).[vii] Sigmoidoscopy is a quicker procedure than colonoscopy because less of the colon is examined.

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What can I do to prevent colorectal cancer?

Besides regular screenings and knowing your risk, you can adapt your lifestyle to limit your risk for developing colorectal cancer.[viii]

  • Be active! Low physical activity and obesity can contribute to your risk.
  • Limit red meat, processed meat, and fats
  • Quit smoking
  • Get to or keep a healthy body weight
  • Minimize body fat, especially belly fat
  • Drink in moderation

Some research suggests you can further reduce your risk by including certain things in your diet:

  • Eat more dietary fiber
  • Eat more garlic
  • Drink milk if your body tolerates it
  • Get plenty of calcium

Did you know…

…that an average 1 in 3 adults over the age of 50 are not being screened for colorectal cancer?[ix]

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[i] http://fightcolorectalcancer.org/prevent-it/facts-about-colorectal-cancer/

[ii] http://fightcolorectalcancer.org/prevent-it/what-is-colorectal-cancer/

[iii] http://fightcolorectalcancer.org/prevent-it/risk-factors/

[iv] http://fightcolorectalcancer.org/prevent-it/signs-symptoms/

[v] http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/diagnostic-tests/colonoscopy/Pages/diagnostic-test.aspx

[vi] http://www.dana-farber.org/Health-Library/Understanding-upper-endoscopy-and-colonoscopy.aspx

[vii] http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/diagnostic-tests/flexible-sigmoidoscopy/Pages/diagnostic-test.aspx

[viii] http://fightcolorectalcancer.org/prevent-it/risk-factors/

[ix] http://fightcolorectalcancer.org/prevent-it/

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