March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month and a chance to promote the need for early detection and to raise awareness about this cancer that is completely preventable. Yet, colorectal cancer is still the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., behind only lung cancer. Colon cancer is a leading cause of new cancer cases for both men and women each year. The American Cancer Society estimates that 143,460 people will be diagnosed in 2012.
Screening is sometimes the only way to detect precancerous polyps or early stage colon cancer because symptoms often do not present themselves until the cancer has progressed. Many times symptoms are so vague that they are dismissed as part of the daily grind of life.
Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer
• Change in bowel habits, including diarrhea, constipation or inconsistency of your stool
• Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
• Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
• Feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely
• Weakness or fatigue
• Unexplained weight loss
Many people with colon cancer experience no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. When symptoms appear, they'll likely vary, depending on the cancer's size and location in the large intestine.
Unlike other cancers, there are many different screening tests for colorectal cancer. If you are older than 50, you should talk to your health care provider about which test is right for you. However, colonoscopy is a preferred strategy because it is one of the best ways to find early colorectal cancer before it has had a chance to spread. In addition, removal of pre-cancerous polyps during a colonoscopy can prevent cancer.
You may be asking yourself, when should I get screened?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you are 50 or older, you should be screened. Also, the CDC recommends you be screened at an earlier age if you:
• Have a family history of colorectal cancer, polyps, or inflammatory bowel disease
• Are African American
• Are obese
• Have diabetes
• Are a smoker
• Are a heavy alcohol user
Colorectal cancer is preventable, beatable and treatable when caught early. Talk to your healthcare provider about screening options and ways to reduce your risk and encourage
those close to you to do the same.
Although we don't know the cause and cure of cancer, we do know early detection is the best