Approximately 140,000 people learn they have colon cancer every year in our country. While some 50,000 die each year from it, the good news is that many are learning their diagnosis early enough to successfully treat the disease.
The goal in designating March Colon Cancer Awareness Month is to bring the number of deaths down. Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, bowel cancer and rectal cancer, is highly treatable when detected in its early stages. Educational events, walks and runs scheduled throughout the month are aimed at getting the word out about the importance of screening.
Colon cancer affects men and women almost equally, with the vast majority of cancers occurring in those 50 and older. Because the disease tends to be asymptomatic in early stages, many people have cancerous growths or precancerous polyps and don’t know it. Even as more people get screened, colon cancer continues to be among the top three causes of cancer death in the U.S.
Who is at risk?
Those 50 years old and older – at least 90% of colon cancer occurs in this age group.
Those with a family history of colon cancer.
Those with family members who have had precancerous growths or polyps removed.
Those with certain genetic, racial or ethnic backgrounds, though it is not understood why. Talk to your doctor about these risk factors.
What can you do?
Stay active and get plenty of exercise.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Limit alcohol consumption.
Get a colonoscopy according to your health care provider’s recommendation. It is the most effective way to diagnose and/or prevent colon cancer.
Cancerous and precancerous growths and polyps can cause stomach pain or cramping, blood in the stool, and unexplained weight loss. However, while it is important to see your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms, colon cancer frequently causes no symptoms at all. Your doctor will recommend a colonoscopy if you are 50 or older, or younger if you have a family history of colon cancer or another risk factor.
A colonoscopy is a simple procedure in which your doctor uses a tiny video camera to check the lining of your intestine for polyps and abnormal growths. These can be removed during your exam and tested for cancer. To prepare for the exam you will take medication and fast for 24 hours to clear your colon. Most people report the prep time is much easier now than in years past.
The biggest benefit to making the commitment to get screened is that 90% of cancer diagnosed at this early stage is easily treatable.
This March 6, wear blue to bring awareness to colon cancer, screening, and treatment to save your life or the life of a loved one. There are many resources available explaining colon cancer, risk factors and options for screening and genetic testing. Our doctors can advise you about steps you can take to prevent colon cancer and reduce the risk among your family members.