March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. More than 135,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than 50,200 will die of the disease this year. Although it is one of the deadliest forms of cancer, it can be cured if caught early, when it is highly treatable. Preventive screenings are the key to early detection.
Colon cancer affects men and women of all racial and ethnic groups, and is most often found in people 50 to 75 years old who have a history of tobacco use, are overweight, drink alcohol in excess, are not physically active, eat a lot of red meat, or have a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps.
Colorectal cancer symptoms may not be apparent in early stages. Symptoms that do develop may include blood in the stool, a change in bowel movements, abdominal issues such as bloating and cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, and fatigue. There is a growing trend of colon cancer in individuals as young as age 30; symptoms should not be ignored due to a younger age.
In many cases, preventive screenings can detect or prevent colon cancer by finding and removing polyps before they become cancerous. Preventive screening such as sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy should be performed every 5 to 10 years from age 50 through at least age 75. There are also screenings that can be done annually, including the fecal occult blood test (FOBT) and fecal immunochemical test (FIT).
If you are at least 50 years old, are at high risk for colorectal cancer, or have experienced colorectal cancer symptoms, talk with your doctor to determine a screening schedule that is right for you. Community organizations and some health plans offer free at-home screening tests. Learn more about the cancer screening benefits that are available to you. Be a step ahead of cancer and make sure you are getting your recommended screenings!
John E. Aoki, M.D., CHCQM, FABQAURP
Chief Medical Officer
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