Annually, March is recognized as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month as a way to raise awareness of the fourth most common cancer in both men and women. The good news is that colorectal cancer is preventable, treatable and beatable, and through preventive screening you can significantly lower your risk for the disease.
Most colorectal cancers arise from benign polyps, small bumps in the colon lining. Research has shown that approximately 30 percent of the population has one or more polyps after the age of 50. It usually takes five to 15 years for polyps to develop into colorectal cancer, but in many cases, regular screening can prevent this cancer altogether.
Polyps may be small and produce few, if any, symptoms. Regular screening tests are therefore strongly recommended by doctors, as many people experience no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Certain symptoms that do appear vary, depending on the cancer's location in the large intestine and its size. These symptoms can include:
"¢ Abdominal pain and tenderness in lower abdomen
"¢ Blood in stool
"¢ Change in bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool for longer than a couple of weeks
"¢ Feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely
"¢ Weakness or fatigue
"¢ Unexplained weight loss or anemia
While there is no known specific cause for colorectal cancer, there are certain factors that may increase an individual's risk. These risk factors include:
"¢ Older age, as nearly 90 percent of people diagnosed with the disease are older than 50
"¢ African-American or eastern European descent
"¢ A diet high in red or processed meat and low in fiber
"¢ Personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps
"¢ Inflammatory bowel disease
"¢ Being overweight or obese
"¢ Family history of colon cancer
"¢ Personal history of breast cancer
By speaking with your physician and determining when you should begin screening for colorectal cancer, you can start protecting yourself against this disease early on.
Colorectal cancer can be detected when it is most curable with proper screening, and through such preventive measures, the declining mortality rates of this devastating disease may continue to be reduced.
Dr. Jose Monzon is an attending colorectal surgeon at Bassett Healthcare Network.