This March, we’re celebrating Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month along with the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, and we’re inviting all of our patients to take time and educate themselves on colorectal cancer. Everyone should understand the common symptoms of colorectal cancer, prevention care, and treatment. It really is the most important thing you can do for yourself.  

How Common Is Colorectal Cancer?

You might be asking yourself how common colorectal cancer is and why you should participate in an awareness month for something that might not be on your radar. The fact is, however, that colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in the United States. The American Cancer Society projects that over 50,000 people will die from the disease this year, making it the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths for both men and women combined. Thankfully, this number has been trending down over the past few decades in large part due to the increased number of people undergoing screening colonoscopies, but it’s highly likely that you have a friend or family member who has either been diagnosed with colorectal cancer or will be in their lifetime.

Who Is The Most Likely To Have Colorectal Cancer? What Are The Symptoms?

Men are slightly more likely to have colorectal cancer than women, as are those in the over 50 age group, although studies have shown that incidents of colorectal cancer are showing up more and more in younger demographics. This trend of an age shift to younger adults actually pushed the American Cancer Society to update their screening recommendations recently, lowering the recommended age to begin having colonoscopies to age 45. 

Colorectal cancer is also most commonly seen in those with a personal or family history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, those with type 2 diabetes, and those with certain inherited syndromes. Although you have no control over those risk factors, you can evaluate where you fall into other risk categories, including being overweight or obese, not getting enough physical activity, smoking, and being a heavy drinker.

One of the big issues with diagnosing colorectal cancer is that it doesn’t always present with major symptoms, and the ones that it can present with don’t always appear that alarming or are also symptoms of much less serious health issues. These symptoms can include a change in bowel habits lasting more than a few days, blood in your stool, cramping, weight loss, weakness and fatigue, and the constant feeling of needing to have a bowel movement.

What Can I Do To Prevent Colorectal Cancer?

One of the most important things you can do for your overall health is to maintain a healthy diet, get into a regular exercise routine, and attain and maintain a healthy weight. If this all seems daunting to you, speak to your healthcare provider to determine your best course of action. Secondly, it’s important to understand your body so you can detect even subtle changes in your health or in your bathroom habits. Understanding this can lead to early detection, thus leading to more successful long-term outcomes.

The single best course of action to take in preventing colorectal cancer specifically is to have regular colonoscopies. Colonoscopies are generally a simple, quick, outpatient procedure that everyone should begin having by age 50. Recently the American Cancer Society changed the recommended age to 45, but insurance companies have not yet adjusted to the new age recommendations. In most cases, health insurance will cover the exam at age 50 with no out of pocket expense to the patient, removing a financial barrier that some people may think comes along with the exam. There are some cases where, if you have a family history of the disease or other high risk factors, you should begin before age 45. Your doctor will discuss with you the ideal screening schedule based on your personal situation. 

If you’re ready to educate yourself on colorectal health, as well as begin the necessary screening process, it’s time to book an appointment with Needham Gastroenterology Associates today.