National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month kicks off Friday, March 1st with National Wear Blue Day. Experts predict that in 2013, 150,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer, making it the third most common cancer in the United States – surpassed only by lung and prostate cancer in men and lung and breast cancer in women. Colorectal cancer is also the 2nd deadliest cancer in the US – second only behind lung cancer.
Unlike many cancers, colorectal cancer is up to 90% treatable. Unfortunately, most people don’t think about getting checked until signs or symptoms apear – and by this time, the cancer is usually in late stages. If detected early, colorectal cancer is preventable, treatable, and beatable. That’s why it’s important to:
- Know the symptoms
- Know your risk
- Get regular screenings
Read on for more information, and the life you save could be your own!
Know the Symptoms
It’s important to remember that colorectal cancer can be present without any symptoms at all. If you or someone you love has any of the following below, tell your doctor. A colonoscopy may be necessary to rule out cancer.
Symptoms can include:
- A significant change in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea that lasts more than a couple of weeks
- Bright red or very dark blood in the stool; black stools may also indicate blood
- A feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
- Unexplained anemia (low number of red blood cells)
- Stools that consistently look narrower or thinner than normal
- Abdominal discomfort such as frequent gas pains, bloating or abdominal cramps
- Unexpected, unexplained weight loss
- Constant exhaustion or fatigue
Know Your Risk
All adults are at risk for colorectal cancer, as well as a small percentage of children and young adults. Adult risk for colorectal cancer increases significantly over age 50, so if you’re 50 or above, make sure you’re screened regularly. Certain factors can increase your risk, such as your family history, personal medical history and lifestyle choices. Which of the following risk categories do you fall under?
- You’re age 50 or over with no other personal or family risk factors
- You’ve had previous colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps, or
- You have a family history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps
- You’ve inherited Lynch Syndrome (also known as hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer or HNPCC) – a type of cancer of the digestive tract
- You’ve inherited familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or attenuated familial adenomatous polyposis (AFAP)
Additional Lifestyle Risks:
- Heavy alcohol use
- Lack of exercise
- Diets high in fat and red or processed meat
- Diets low in fruits and vegetables
- Inadequate levels of Calcium and Vitamin D
Get Regular Screenings
Since up to 90% of colorectal cancers are treatable if discovered early, we can’t emphasize a regular screening program enough! Leaders in the field have estimated that up to 30,000 lives are lost unnecessarily each year, due to late-stage diagnosis.
Tests that screen for cancer and polyps:
- Colonoscopy (Every ten years starting at age 50.) What to Expect: the doctor examines the inside of the rectum and entire colon using a long, lighted tube called a colonoscope.
- Flexible Sigmoidoscopy (Every five years starting at age 50.) What to Expect: the doctor examines your rectum and lower part of the colon with a lighted tube called a sigmoidoscope.
- Virtual Colonoscopy (Every five years starting at age 50.) What to Expect: the doctor uses x-rays and computers to take 2- or 3-dimensional images of your colon and rectum.
- Double-Contrast Barium Enema (DCBE) (Every five to ten years starting at age 50.) What to Expect: the doctor pumps air and barium into your rectum. The solution shows polyps or tumors on x-rays.
Tests That Screen for Cancer (these stool tests are less invasive, but also can’t detect polyps)
- Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) – Guaiac FOBT (Once a year starting at age 50.) What to Expect: you’ll submit a portion of several bowel movements to your doctor, who will test for small amounts of blood in the stool.
- Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) – Fecal Immunochemical Test (Once a year starting at age 50.) What to Expect: you’ll submit a portion of one to three bowel movements to your doctor, who will test for blood in the stool that can’t be seen with the naked eye.
- Stool DNA (sDNA) (This is a new method, and the screening interval is still unknown.) What to Expect: you’ll submit a stool sample to your doctor, who will look for certain DNA mutations caused from cancerous tumors or precancerous polyps.
Please share this article and spread the word! Have you been screened for colorectal cancer?