Don’t Assume … The Importance of Detecting Colon and Rectal Cancer Early
March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month and the Colorectal Cancer Alliance theme this year is “Don’t Assume.”
We all tend to assume cancer won’t happen to us and our loved ones, but statistics say otherwise. Colorectal Cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer behind lung, breast (women) and prostate (men) and the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined in the United States. Although it varies according to hereditary and individual risk factors, the lifetime risk of developing colon cancer is about one in 23 for men and women combined (4.5 percent). According to the American Cancer Society, people with a close relative or family history have a two to three times higher risk of developing colon and rectal cancer than those without family history. For these reasons, it is important to manage your screenings.
While the recommended age to get tested for colon or rectal cancer is 50 years old, your doctor may recommend getting tested earlier. Your medical provider will go through the different screenings with you, but depending on family history, she may recommend one over the other. Colonoscopy is the “gold standard” of colon and rectal cancer detection, using a scope to view the inside of your colon and rectum for polyps. If polyps are found, they are removed during the procedure. If no polyps are detected, you may not have to be screened for another five to 10 years.
If you have symptoms, don’t wait. A change in bowel habits such as persistent diarrhea, constipation, cramps, gas, bloating, bowels not emptying fully, blood in your stool, rectal bleeding, as well as weakness, fatigue and losing weight unexpectedly are all signs that should send you to your doctor. Only your doctor will know for sure with further testing.
There is no doubt adopting a healthy lifestyle will reduce risks for many diseases, including colorectal cancer. Limiting red meats and avoiding processed meats, while increasing your consumption of vegetables and fruits containing fiber and nutrients will help to protect good cells in your digestive tract. Exercising 30 to 60 minutes a day is also highly recommended to maintain a healthy weight and a healthy colon. If you smoke, stop, and if you drink alcohol, drink in moderation (one glass for women; up to two glasses for men). Both increase risk of colorectal cancer.
If you’re 50 years old, have a family history of colon or rectal cancer, or have the symptoms described above, get checked. Don’t assume! Early detection can save your life.