The Facts You Need to Know About Colorectal Cancer

Even though it’s the third most commonly diagnosed cancer for both men and women in the United States, colorectal cancer’s symptoms remain a mystery to many people. The good news? Through routine screenings, check-ups and a few preventive steps, colorectal cancer can be caught early and treated.

And more and more people are catching it in its early stages. Thanks to screenings, there has been a decline in death rates from colorectal cancer over the past decade. But the disease continues to affect more than 136,000 Americans every year, meaning there’s still a lot of work to be done. In honor of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, here’s what you need to know about the disease and what you can do to prevent it.

What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer is the term for any cancer that is first detected in either the colon or the rectum. Physicians often group these two types of cancer together because they share many symptoms. Like many cancers, symptoms can vary from patient to patient, depending on factors like the size and location of the cancer.

Doesn’t colon cancer only affect men?

While cancers of the colon have long been thought of as a “man’s disease,” this could not be further from the truth. Colorectal cancer is an “equal opportunity disease” that does not discriminate against gender. Your age is actually the most important factor to consider: Anybody over the age of 50 should get screened. If you have a family history, your primary care physician may recommend a colonoscopy before age 50.

Is colorectal cancer preventable?

According to the American Cancer Association, colorectal cancer is not only preventable, it is also possible to treat it and beat it. The key to prevention and early detection is routine colonoscopies and keeping your colon healthy. One way to boost your colon health is to eat a colon-friendly diet, which includes lots of fiber and low amounts of sugar.

Only 59 percent of people aged 50 or older (the age group for which screening is recommended) report getting their routine colonoscopy. Are you overdue for a screening? Ask your primary care physician to recommend a gastroenterologist who can perform the screening. Your local health department may also provide free or low-cost screenings. It doesn’t take long (just 20 minutes to an hour) and you’re back to normal the very next day.

Screenings are so beneficial because they allow doctors to detect small polyps on the lining of the colon and instantly remove them. Though not all polyps turn into cancer, early removal of these polyps can keep them from developing and give you a peace of mind.

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Photo credit: stevecoleimages

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