March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. The goal of this national health observance is to increase awareness that colorectal cancer is largely preventable, treatable and beatable. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States, second only to lung cancer. However, it doesn’t have to be. Through knowledge of risk factors, symptoms and screening, colorectal cancer can be detected early when it’s most treatable.
Colon cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the large intestine (colon). It usually begins as small, noncancerous (benign) clumps of cells called polyps that form on the inside of the colon. Over time, some of these polyps can become colon cancers. If colon cancer develops, many treatments are available to help control it, including surgery, radiation therapy and drug treatments, such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy.
Increasing age is the most important risk factor for colorectal cancer. Younger adults can get it, but it’s much more common after age 45. Other risk factors for colorectal cancer include family history, hereditary conditions, excessive alcohol use, smoking, obesity, and more. Even though you can’t change family history or hereditary conditions, you can control behaviors like limiting alcohol intake, quitting smoking/vamping, and eating a proper diet filled with vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
Even when you do all the right things, sometimes colon cancer can still occur, but it is largely preventable through screening. The screening process can find precancerous polyps – abnormal growths in the colon or rectum – so that they can be removed before turning into cancer. Screening also helps find colorectal cancer at an early stage, when treatment can often lead to a cure. All adults aged 50 years and older, especially for those with first-degree relatives with colorectal cancer, should take part in a routine screening, not just when symptoms occur. Colorectal cancer often develops without symptoms, but when they occur, symptoms may include:
- Blood in or on stool
- Persistent unusual bowel movements like constipation or diarrhea
- Stomach pain, aches, or cramps that don’t go away
- Losing weight for no reason
According to the National Cancer Institute, it is estimated that there will be 106, 970 new cases of colon cancer and 45,050 new cases of rectal cancer in 2023. If you are age 50 and older or know you are at risk for colorectal cancer, please talk to your provider today about getting screened.