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Colorectal cancer; Save a life with early screening

By Dan McKay

President/CEO, Ephraim McDowell Health

March is National Colorectal Cancer Month. With over 100,000 new cases every year, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States – but there is good news! With early detection, over half the deaths that occur annually can be prevented.

So what is colorectal cancer? Besides the obvious fact, it’s a disease that occurs in the colon or rectum. Well, for starters, it occurs when abnormal growths, or polyps, form in those two areas of the body and can eventually over time turn into cancer. For those who are diagnosed with colon cancer, they may have symptoms that include a change in bowel habits, blood in their stool, diarrhea, constipation, feeling like their bowel doesn’t empty completely, abdominal pain and aches, or unexplained weight loss. However, for some, colorectal polyps and colorectal cancer might not cause symptoms making it important for individuals of a certain age, or risk level, to be screened regularly for colorectal cancer.

For most people, screening for colorectal cancer begins as early as the age of 45. Although, those who have had a close relative diagnosed with colorectal cancer or polyps should be screened earlier. Individuals who have other health issues such as inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, or those with a genetic syndrome such as Lynch syndrome should also be screened earlier.

The good news is there are several screening tests that can be used to find polyps or diagnose colorectal cancer, the first of which is a stool test. If blood is found in the stool, further testing may be required such as a colonoscopy which is performed as an outpatient procedure during which time a physician will examine the inside of the colon, and/or rectum, for polyps and possible cancerous growths.

But age is not the only factor to consider when discussing who may or may not be at high risk for colon cancer. Lifestyle factors can also play a part in someone’s increased risk for the disease. Individuals who lack regular physical activity, have a diet that is low in fruit and vegetables, consumes a low-fiber or high-fat diet with high processed meats, those who may be overweight or obese, and individuals who indulge in alcohol or tobacco use often are also considered high risk for colon cancer.

It is important to understand that early screening for the disease can absolutely help prevent colon cancer. Through detection, precancerous growths, such as polyps, are removed in the disease’s early stage, thus making treatment typically more successful.

Early screening can save lives! In fact, nine out of every 10 people who are diagnosed early are still alive five years later. If you are 45 or older, I urge you to not wait and talk to your doctor now about how you can get screened for colon cancer.

Also, if you think you may be at high-risk, don’t hesitate to speak with your physician about early screening to rule out colorectal cancer in your life, and be sure to speak to your loved ones if they have symptoms or may be of age for annual screenings as well.

Colon cancer affects men, women, and individuals of all racial and ethnic groups. With early screening, we can prevent and treat colorectal cancer and ensure a longer survival rate for those who are diagnosed. The second leading cause of cancer death in the nation can be treated and prevented. This month, help us bring awareness to a cancer that may be common, but can be cured. Educate yourself, talk to your loved ones, and help save a life with early screenings.

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