Ask the Docs
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
By Lesley Glover, MD
Many of us recognize March as the month to celebrate St. Patrick (who, despite popular belief, is not the patron saint of green beer). But a little known fact about March is that it is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum. Among cancers that affect both men and women, it is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, and one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in this country.
The risk of developing colorectal cancer increases with advancing age, with more than 90% of cases occurring in people aged 50 or older. An individual’s risk is also greater if they have a family member who has been diagnosed with colon cancer.
So what can be done to decrease your risk of developing colon cancer? In general, minimizing alcohol and avoiding tobacco are good places to start. Some studies show that increased physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight may decrease risk. And while there is currently no consensus on the role of diet in preventing colorectal cancer, a diet low in animal fats and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, and definitely reduces the risk of other chronic diseases, such as coronary artery disease and diabetes. Researchers are also examining the role of certain medications and supplements, including aspirin, calcium, vitamin D, and selenium, in preventing colorectal cancer.
While diet and supplements may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, the most effective way to reduce your risk is by having regular colorectal cancer screening tests beginning at age fifty (younger in certain instances, such as a family history of colon cancer). Fifty is the recommended age for starting colonoscopy screenings. Colonoscopy is a procedure used to see inside the colon and rectum. Unless you have other factors that increase your risk, you should have one every ten years. Colonoscopy can detect inflamed tissue, ulcers, and abnormal growths. The procedure is used to look for early signs of colorectal cancer and can help doctors diagnose unexplained changes in bowel habits, abdominal pain, bleeding from the anus, and weight loss, so visit your doctor if you develop any of these symptoms.
There are important ways of screening between colonoscopies as well. High sensitivity fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) should be done yearly. This tests the stool for microscopic amounts of blood, which can be an early sign of colon cancer. The fecal immunochemical test (FIT) is a more sensitive test that is now available to detect occult bleeding, and does not require any dietary or drug restrictions.
So, here are the doctor’s orders. Take control of your health and reduce your cancer risk. Stay away from tobacco. Stay at a healthy weight. Get moving with regular physical activity. Eat healthy with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Limit how much alcohol you drink (if you drink at all). Know yourself, your family history, and your risks. Have regular check-ups and cancer screening tests. We are available here at Family Medical and Wellness Center if you would like to discuss cancer screening or any other aspects of your health. Give us a call at 561-721-1953.