March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and is dedicated to increasing awareness of the importance of early detection for colorectal cancer and the importance of routine, life-saving screenings. Colorectal cancer occurs in the colon or rectum. It usually starts from polyps (small growths) on the lining of the colon or rectum. Polyps and colorectal cancer may not cause symptoms, especially at first. It can take many years for a polyp to develop into colorectal cancer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, colorectal cancer remains the third-leading cause of new cancer cases and cancer-related deaths in the United States. Regular screenings, beginning at age 45, is the key to preventing colorectal cancer. If you’re 45 and older, it is recommended that you be screened for colon cancer every 10 years. When colorectal cancer is found early, it can be more easily and successfully treated.
Some people have certain risk factors that make them more likely to develop this type of cancer and to get it at an earlier age. This may mean they should start screening earlier or get tested more often than other people. One of these risk factors is a family history of colon cancer or pre-cancerous polyps, especially in parents, brothers and sisters, or children. Family history of other colon problems and your own personal history can also increase risk. Most polyps and early cancer do not have symptoms. That is why screening is so important.
Common Signs and Symptoms
- Rectal bleeding (either bright red or very dark in color)
- A change in bowel habits
- Abdominal discomfort
- Stools that are narrower than usual
- Frequent gas pains
- A feeling that your bowel isn’t completely empty
- Unexplained weight loss
- Constant tiredness
Colorectal cancer is preventable, treatable, and beatable. Early detection is the best prevention. It is one of only a few cancers that can be prevented through screening, and if colorectal cancer is found and treated at its earliest stage, the five-year survival rate is 90 percent. Don’t delay, talk to your primary care provider about your screening options today!