March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Doctors stress awareness of colorectal cancer because it’s so difficult to detect, and yet completely preventable. A colonoscopy has a negative connotation which causes many people to avoid it. However, this screening could be life-saving. As you better understand the risks and outcomes of colorectal cancer, you’ll be convinced about the importance a colonoscopy holds.

What is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer is the general term for both colon cancer and rectal cancer. The colon describes a portion of the large intestine, and the rectum describes the passage between the colon and the anus. In both the colon and the rectum, cancer develops in the form of polyps. Polyps begin as non-cancerous, abnormal growths. In most cases, no symptoms are associated with pre-cancerous polyps. However, if the polyps are not removed, they can turn into cancer and spread. Colorectal cancer is difficult to detect in the early stages. It is often only realized when it has spread to the liver, lungs, other organs, or is in a late stage.

Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

While there are usually no symptoms associated with the early stages of colorectal cancer, you need to know what to watch for. If you notice any of these GI issues, schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately. Symptoms include a change in bowel movements such as stool consistency, constipation, or diarrhea. If you feel cramping or abdominal pain, feel bloated or if you cannot empty your bowel, it should not be ignored. If you discover blood in your stool, feel weak, nauseous, or experience unintended weight loss, you need to see your GI doctor. Even though these are also symptoms of other gastrointestinal problems, they may indicate the presence of colorectal cancer.

Risks and Tips

Colon cancer is currently the third leading cause of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer deaths. It affects both men and women equally, yet your risk for developing colorectal cancer rises with your age. Adults over the age of 50 are at a higher risk which is why a colonoscopy is encouraged between the ages of 45 and 50. There are more cases of colorectal cancer found in African Americans than any other race. You are also at a higher risk of colorectal cancer if someone in your family has been diagnosed. But as we mentioned earlier, colorectal cancer is completely treatable if it’s detected early. The best way to reduce your risk is to eat a healthy diet low in fat and high in fiber. Limit your consumption of alcohol and stop smoking. Tobacco and alcohol have direct links to colorectal cancer and should be avoided if possible. Exercising at least three days a week for a minimum of twenty minutes is also helpful in preventing a diagnosis.

But the best thing you can do is schedule a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy can detect cancer in an early, treatable stage. In fact, the American Cancer Society reports that adults diagnosed with stage one colon cancer have a 92% five-year survival rate. Those diagnosed with stage 1 rectal cancer have a five-year survival rate of 88%. In a stage four diagnosis for both colon and rectal cancer, the five-year survival rate drops to nearly 12%. Most importantly, a colonoscopy can detect the pre-cancerous polyps and allow your doctor to remove them before cancer ever develops. If you are at least 50 years old, it’s time to schedule your colonoscopy today. Your first screening colonoscopy is normally covered with no out of pocket expense. Make an appointment at GI Associates & Endoscopy Center and do what’s best for you and your family—prevent colorectal cancer before it strikes.

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