March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
Colorectal cancer is the fourth most commonly occurring cancer in the USA and nearly five percent of Americans will develop colorectal cancer in their lifetime. At any time, over one million Americans are currently living with colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, with over 56,000 people expected to die from this disease each year. However, it is a preventable and very curable disease if caught early.
Timely and regular screening for colorectal cancer, people may be able to lower their risk of getting the disease by:
- Avoiding foods that are high in fat.
- Eating plenty of vegetables, fruits and other high-fiber foods.
- Exercising regularly and maintaining a normal body weight.
- Not smoking and drinking alcohol only in moderation.
Because there are often no symptoms when it is first developing, colorectal cancer can only be caught early through regular screening. The benefits of early detection and treatment are dramatic. The possibility of curing patients after symptoms develop is only 50%, but if colorectal cancer is found and treated at an early stage before symptoms develop, the opportunity to cure it is 80% or better. Most colon cancers start as non-cancerous growths called polyps. If we are able to find these polyps while they are still non-cancerous, we remove them and the cancer may be prevented. Major surgery can usually be avoided, as well.
The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS), which is dedicated to advancing the treatment of patients with diseases affecting the colon, rectum and anus, supports the following colorectal cancer screening guidelines:
- For people at average risk of getting colorectal cancer, a digital rectal examination and fecal occult blood test, which screens for hidden blood in the stool, are recommended annually beginning at age 50.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy (a test that allows the physician to look directly at the lining of the lower colon and rectum) is recommended every 5 years at age 50 or older.
- A colonoscopy (a test that allows the physician to look directly at the lining of the entire colon and rectum) every 10 years or a barium enema (x-ray of the colon) every 5 to 10 years are acceptable alternatives.
- People at increased risk for colorectal cancer include those with a personal or family history of colorectal polyps or cancer, those with a personal history of breast, uterine or ovarian cancer, and those with chronic ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
- Increased risk patients may need earlier and more frequent screening depending upon the recommendation of their healthcare provider.
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