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Colorectal cancer screening saves lives

From Dr. Janine Harewood, an oncologist with Lee Health.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men and women, and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.

Despite these statistics, the survival rate has been growing due to a combination of improved screenings and expanding treatment options.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. It’s an excellent opportunity to review any risk factors you may have and make sure you’re getting the screenings you need.

Regular screening, beginning at age 45, is the key to preventing colorectal cancer. If you’re 45 to 75 years old, you should be screened for colorectal cancer regularly. If you’re younger than 45, or if you’re older than 75 and think you may be at high risk of getting colorectal cancer, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about whether you should be screened.

Colorectal polyps and colorectal cancer don’t usually cause symptoms in the first stages of disease. However, your best chance at cure is when polyps or cancer is found at early stages.  That’s why getting screened regularly for colorectal cancer is so important. There are several different screening options that can be used to find polyps or colorectal cancer, including some that you can do at home. The first step in preventing and treating colorectal cancer, like all cancers, is diagnosis. You can’t treat what you don’t know is there. It is important to get screened even if you feel perfectly well.

Though we recommend you do not wait until you develop symptoms to be checked, some of the symptoms you should contact your doctor about are abdominal pain, blood in the stool, change in bowel habits, fatigue and unintentional weight loss . If you develop any of these symptoms you need to discuss this with your doctor.

Understanding your risk factors is also crucial. The most significant risk factor for developing colorectal cancer is age. More than 90% of all diagnosed cases are in patients age 50 or older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, there is a rising incidence of the cancer in young and middle-aged adults.

Lifestyle factors, such as diet, play a significant role in this increase. Poor diets that are low in vegetables, fruits and fiber and high in fat, red meat and processed foods are associated with increased risk for developing colorectal cancer. Those with inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis are also at higher risk. A family history of colorectal cancer increases your risk as well.

Understanding your risk factors, family history and receiving regular screenings can help you cut your risk of developing colorectal cancer.