Current Health Topics

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and a good time to learn more about colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon and rectum) and how it can be prevented or best treated. Approximately 140,000 new cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed every year and another 56,000 people die annually of this disease. But colorectal cancer is a disease that can be prevented and cured if detected and treated early.

Prevention techniques include regular screenings, a healthy diet and regular exercise. If detected, colorectal cancer requires surgery in nearly all cases for a complete cure, sometimes in conjunction with radiation and chemotherapy. Between 80 and 90 percent of patients are restored to normal health if the cancer is detected and treated in the earliest stages. However, the cure rate drips to 50 percent or less when diagnosed in the later stages.

What are signs and symptoms of colorectal Cancer?

  • Bleeding from your rectum.
  • Blood in the stool or in the toilet after you have a bowel movement.
  • A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days.
  • Cramping pain in your lower stomach.
  • A feeling that you still need to have a bowel movement that doesn't go away after you have one.
  • A low red blood count (anemia) without another obvious explanation.

Note: Other conditions can cause these symptoms. You should be checked by your doctor to find the reasons for your symptoms.

Can Colorectal Cancer be Prevented?

The American Cancer Society recommendations for nutrition and physical activity are important to colorectal cancer prevention.

  • Eat a variety of healthful foods, with emphasis on plant sources.
  • Adopt a physically active lifestyle.
  • Maintain a healthful weight throughout life.
  • Limit use of alcoholic beverages.

Beginning at age 50, the American Cancer Society recommends men and women follow one of the following testing options (note: people who are at an increased risk for colorectal cancer need to begin screening at an earlier age and may need more frequent screening.)

  • Yearly fecal occult blood tests (FOBT)
  • Yearly fecal immunochemical test (FIT) - for FOBT or FIT, the take-home multiple sample method should be used. A FOBT or FIT done during a digital rectal exam in the doctor's office is not adequate for screening.
  • Stool DNA test (sDNA), interval uncertain
  • Flexible signoidoscopy every 5 years
  • CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years
  • Colonoscopy every 10 years

It is far better to get some type of screening than none at all. Also try to remember everyday that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight can also prevent colorectal cancer. These tips also are important for maintaining overall health.

For more information, view the following links:
National Cancer Institute

The American Cancer Society

Colon Cancer Alliance (CCA)

American Institute for Cancer Research