March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Colorectal cancer screening saves lives

Colorectal cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the United States. It strikes men and women almost equally. It is the third leading cause of cancer death for women after lung and breast cancers. The risk of developing colorectal cancer increases with age, more than 90% of cases are in people aged 50 or older. It affects about 140,000 Americans each year, of whom around 55,000 will not survive. These are the facts – colorectal cancer is common and often fatal, but it does not have to be.

Screening and early detection are vital to change these statistics. Colorectal cancer is one of the most detectable and can be one of the most treatable forms of cancer.  Also called colon cancer, it is found in the colon (large intestine) and the rectum. Most colorectal cancers develop first as colorectal polyps, which are growths inside the colon or rectum that may later become cancerous. Screening tests are designed to find these precancerous polyps so they can be removed before becoming cancer. These tests can also find colorectal cancer early, when treatment works best and can lead to a cure. As many as 80% of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented if all men and women aged 50 years or older were screened routinely.

Risk factors for colorectal cancer

·  Age – Your risk increases after age 50 and the average age at diagnosis is 72.
· Colorectal Polyps – These are growths on the inner wall of the colon or rectum, common in people age 50+. Most are benign (not cancer) but some (called adenomas) can become cancer. Finding and removing polyps may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
· Personal history of cancer – If you have had colorectal cancer or are a woman with a history of cancer of the ovary, uterus or breast you are at a somewhat higher risk.
· Family history of colorectal cancer – If your close family – parents or siblings – has a history of colorectal cancer, especially at a young age, your risk is greater.
· Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease – Both of these cause inflammation of the colon and increase the risk of colorectal cancer.
· Diet and Lifestyle – Inactivity and obesity have been linked to a higher risk of colorectal cancer. Daily physical activity can decrease your risk by as much as 50 percent.
· Cigarette smoking – Smokers have an increased risk of developing polyps and colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer develops over a 10 to 15 year period and has few, if any, symptoms until it is advanced. When it is discovered early it is very treatable. The cancerous tumors can be removed and survival rate is very high. Talk to Dr. Hessel now about getting screened – it is your best protection against colorectal cancer. Do not wait for symptoms, it may be too late by the time you experience them.

If symptoms are present they may include any of the following –
· Changes in bowel habits – diarrhea, constipation or changes in the consistency of your stool
· Rectal bleeding and/or blood in your stool
· Feeling that your bowel does not empty completely and having narrow stools
· Abdominal pain – persistent and uncomfortable cramps, gas, bloating
· Weight loss, weakness or fatigue, having nausea or vomiting

These symptoms may be caused by other health issues. Usually, early cancer does not cause pain so only your doctor can determine why you’re having these symptoms.

Screening saves lives. You should begin screening for colorectal cancer soon after turning 50, then continue getting screened at regular intervals. There are several tests available to screen for colorectal cancer. Talk with Dr. Hessel about the tests that are best for you and when you should start them. Generally, you should have a colonoscopy every ten years.  A high-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT) detects subtle blood loss anywhere from the mouth to the colon and should be performed every year.  Every five years, a flexible sigmoidoscopy is recommended.  It is similar to a colonoscopy and is used to look for benign and malignant polyps and early signs of cancer in the descending colon and rectum.  One more test is the double contrast barium enema which is given once every 5 years

To reduce your risk of colorectal cancer, routine screening is the most important step to take. In addition, increase your physical activity – Spring is the perfect time to take up walking, bike riding, and gardening. Maintain a healthy weight and diet and stop smoking. Certain medications and supplements, such as aspirin, calcium, beta-carotene, vitamin D, C and E, folic acid, probiotics, selenium, and even coffee may help prevent colorectal cancer. But remember, the best and most effective way to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer is by having regular screening tests beginning at age 50.

If you are nearing age 50 or find you have one or more of the risk factors – now is your time. March is your month. Talk to Dr. Hessel about screenings for colorectal cancer. Schedule your appointments in March as a good reminder to be aware of colorectal cancer and of your overall health and well being year after year.