The month of March is for raising awareness, challenging misconceptions, and working together to prevent colon cancer
March may be a month widely celebrated for bringing daylight savings, but it is also renowned for being National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month!
In 2000, President Clinton officially designated the month of March as a time for raising awareness about the third most common cancer in the United States. Since then, countless survivors, patients, medical professionals, and supporters join together in the fight against colorectal cancer by wearing blue, holding events, and encouraging friends and family to get screened.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death from cancers that affect both men and women in the United States. About 140,000 Americans get colorectal cancer each year, and more than 50,000 people lose their lives from it.
What is colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer, also known as colon or rectal cancer, usually starts as a growth, or polyp, on the inner lining of the colon or rectum.
Not all polyps turn into cancer, but the chances are higher depending on the type of polyp that grows.
The two main types of polyps are:
- Adenomatous polyps (adenomas). These can sometimes change into cancer. Because of this, adenomas are called a pre-cancerous condition.
- Hyperplastic polyps and inflammatory polyps. These are more common, but, in general, they are not pre-cancerous.
The most common type of colorectal cancer is called Adenocarcinoma. Most people diagnosed with colorectal cancer almost always have this type.
What are your risk factors?
Your risk for colorectal cancer increases with age, with more than
Other risk factors that you cannot change with lifestyle adjustments include:
- Personal history of colorectal cancer
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Family history of colorectal cancer
- Family cancer syndromes
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Your racial and ethnic background (African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews have the highest risk)
Although regular screens are recommended after the age of fifty, your doctor may want to perform them earlier if you have any of the above risk factors.
Risk factors that you can change with lifestyle adjustments include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Physical inactivity
- Diets high in red meat and processed meat
- Heavy alcohol use
What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?
The most effective way to achieve an early diagnosis is through regular screenings. Precancerous polyps and colorectal cancer itself don’t always cause symptoms, especially not at the onset.
If you do experience symptoms, they may look like:
- Blood in or on your stool
- Stomach pain or cramps that don’t subside
- Unexplained weight loss
Try not to panic if you do experience any of these symptoms, as they are not always an indicator of cancer, but it is important to have them evaluated by your doctor.
How can you protect your colorectal health?
Your risk for colorectal cancer increases with age, with more than 90 percent occurring in people who are 50 years old or older.
Yes, colorectal cancer is among the most common in the United States, but there are things that you can do to lower your risk.
- Get screened. Six out of ten deaths associated with colorectal cancer can be prevented through regular screenings. These tests are able to find growths or polyps that can be removed before they turn into cancer, or detect colon or rectal cancer early, which increases the success rate of treatment. Talk to your doctor about which test might be right for you.
- Eat a balanced diet. You can lower your risk of colorectal cancer by eating more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and eating less red meat and processed meat.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases your risk of getting colorectal cancer. Eating a healthy diet and staying active will help you to achieve a healthy weight.
- Regular Exercise. Inactivity can mean a greater likelihood of colon or rectal cancer, but increasing your level of activity can substantially reduce that risk.
- Limit alcohol intake. The American Cancer Society recommends no more than one drink a day for women, and two drinks a day for men.
- Avoid smoking. Smokers are at a much higher risk of getting colon cancer than non-smokers. If you need help to quit or want to support someone else through it, there are resources available to assist in the process.
How can you help spread awareness and work toward prevention?
The month of March is a time to wear blue and band together to raise awareness and work toward colorectal cancer prevention.
Talk to those closest to you about the importance of regular screenings to help with early detection, and encourage them to maintain healthy lifestyles.
Through the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, you can also participate in events, volunteer your time, host a fundraiser, and raise awareness in your community.
Whatever you do, don’t assume we can’t beat colorectal cancer!
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