In February 2000, President Clinton officially designated March as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. In the 22 years since then, March has become a rallying point around which to spread colorectal cancer awareness and education. Let’s take a look at what to know, including signs & symptoms, how to get screened, and more!
Colorectal Cancer Facts
According to figures from the American Cancer Society, approximately 4.4% of men and 4.1% of women will be diagnosed with CRC in their lifetime. Although the majority of CRC cases are seen in adults 50 and over, 12% of cases are diagnosed in individuals younger than 50, an average of 49 new cases each day.
Since the 1980s, the rate of new cases has decreased significantly. This is mostly a result of increased screening frequency and technologies, but also partly due to improved lifestyle-related risk factors like healthy eating, exercise, and abstinence from alcohol and tobacco.
Colorectal cancer starts in the colon or the rectum. Depending on where the cancerous cells originate, it can also be called colon cancer or rectal cancer. These are often grouped together because of the many features they have in common.
Signs & Symptoms
Most colorectal cancers start as growths, or polyps, on the inner lining of the rectum or colon. Some polyps change into cancer over time, while others are benign. Not all polyps become cancer.
Colorectal cancer may not produce immediately noticeable symptoms. However, signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer include:
•A change in bowel habits (such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool) that lasts for more than a few days
•Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
•Blood in the stool (which may make stool appear dark brown or black)
•Cramping or abdominal pain
•Weakness and/or fatigue
•Unintended weight loss
Many of these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than colorectal cancer, such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), Crohn’s disease, hemorrhoids, or infections. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, contact your doctor right away. Early detection–and intervention–saves lives.
Risk Factors You Can Control
Scientists have linked many lifestyle factors to colorectal cancer. Specifically, the links between weight, diet, and exercise are some of the strongest for any type of cancer. To decrease your risk of developing colorectal cancer, strive to eat a healthy, balanced diet, abstain from alcohol and tobacco, and incorporate regular exercise into your daily regimen.
•Being overweight or obese
•Not being physically active
•Diets high in red/processed meat
Risk Factors You Can’t Control
At the same time, there are numerous risk factors that are outside of your control. For instance, your risk of colorectal cancer increases as you age–as it’s most common in adults over 50. Furthermore, a personal or family history of colorectal cancer, IBS, type 2 diabetes, and even your ethnic/racial background can put you at increased risk.
•A personal history of polyps/colorectal cancer
•Personal history of IBS
•A family history of colorectal cancer
•Having Type 2 Diabetes
How to Get Screened
The American Society of Clinical Oncology recommends annual screening for colonoscopy beginning at age 50 for both men and women at average risk. For those at increased risk due to the aforementioned risk factors, screening may begin earlier.
The most common tests used to screen for colorectal cancer include:
•Fecal occult blood test
•Double-contrast barium enema
•Stool DNA tests
The 5-year survival rate for individuals with localized colorectal cancer is 91%. That means when caught early, colorectal cancer can often be cured. In order to maximize your odds of early detection and intervention, it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms–as well as where to go and what to do if you notice something.
If you’re concerned about signs or symptoms, don’t hesitate to call your doctor’s office.
Together, We Can Beat Colorectal Cancer!
Although improvements in technology and increased screening have made CRC more treatable, there’s still work to be done. One of the key ways we can improve 5-year survival rates is through improved colorectal cancer awareness.
Be sure to encourage those you care about to be aware of the signs & symptoms–and to start regular screening when appropriate. Together, we can increase survival rates and allow patients with CRC to live longer and better lives!
Have questions? Call us today!