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Colorectal Cancer Awareness

medical personnel holding a patient's hands

Colorectal cancer, cancer in the colon or rectum, is often termed the “silent killer.” It’s the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths and the third most common life-threatening cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that in 2019 there will be 101,420 new cases of colon cancer and 44,180 new cases of rectal cancer in the United States. There is expected to be 51,020 colorectal cancer-related deaths in 2019. 

Colorectal cancer typically develops in polyps, or small, pre-cancerous growths, in the lining of the colon. Polyps are found through colorectal cancer screenings, called colonoscopies. A colonoscopy is a safe and painless method to examine the sedated patient for polyps; they are removed if found, which significantly reduces the risk of developing colorectal cancer. The disease is curable if found early enough. 

One of the most preventable human cancers, colorectal cancer, has no early symptoms. It has been estimated that 30-40% of the adult population have polyps and don’t know about them. However, if you experience changes in bowel habits, rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, abdominal discomfort, the feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely, weakness or fatigue, and unexplained weight loss, you should consult with your doctor as soon as these may be symptoms of colorectal cancer. 1 in 3 people aren’t up-to-date on their colorectal cancer examinations. 60% of colorectal cancer-related deaths could have been prevented with screening; however, the death rate has decreased in recent years because people are getting their recommended screenings and polyps are being discovered earlier. 

If polyps are found, you’ve had inflammatory bowel disease, or you have a family history of colorectal cancer, more frequent examinations are typically recommended. 25% of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer have a family history of the disease. Colonoscopies are recommended for individuals 50 years of age and older, 40 years of age for those with a family history of colorectal cancer, or 10 years earlier than the age of the family member who had colorectal cancer. Diagnosis of colorectal cancer is highest in African Americans, Caucasians, and Hispanics. 

Along with getting your recommended screenings, there are several things you can do to help prevent colorectal cancer. You should eat a healthy variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. If at all, drink alcohol in moderation and refrain from smoking. You should exercise most days of the week; maintain a healthy weight. 

The silent killer, colorectal cancer, is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer or have previously had polyps, you are at a higher risk of obtaining the disease. Getting your recommended screenings, eating a healthy diet, and exercising are all important steps in preventing colorectal cancer.