March is colorectal cancer awareness month. Despite vast improvements in our knowledge over the past four decades, colorectal cancer is still the second leading cause of death from cancer. Colorectal cancer affects all racial groups and is most common after the fifth decade of life. Every year, close to 150,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer and more than 55,000 individuals die from the disease.
When caught early, this type of cancer can be cured with surgery however it can be prevented in most individuals over the age of 50 with regular screenings. Today, many types of screening programs for colorectal cancer have been developed and are readily available in the community.
What are symptoms of pre-cancerous lesions of the colon?
The majority of these pre-cancerous lesions (polyps) do not cause any symptoms initially. But over time, polyps can become large and turn into a cancer. In some people, the polyp may present with the following symptoms:
- Blood in the stools- this may be seen as specks or drops of blood when wiping.
- Vague abdominal cramps that come and go.
- Constant bloated sensation.
- Loss of weight for no apparent reason.
It is important to understand that these are not specific symptoms for colorectal cancer and may be caused by many other disorders of the bowel. But if these symptoms persist, it is important to see your healthcare provider. People who have polyps have no way of knowing if they have these lesions and thus, a screening test is extremely important.
- Colonoscopy every ten years starting at age 50
- Fecal occult blood test. This test checks for blood in the stools but is not very specific.
- Sigmoidoscopy screening every five or ten years and may be combined with the fecal blood test.
- Stool DNA test every 1-3 years.
- CT colonography (also known as virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years.
These screening tests help detect pre-cancerous polyps (abnormal growths in the colon) before they turn into a cancer. Since screening also helps detect cancer early, the treatment is often curative. Most of the screening tests are covered by medical insurance and have no downtime. But the best way to treat colon cancer is by preventing it in the first place.
So what should one do to prevent colon cancer?
First start by becoming physically active as this will not only decrease the risk of cancer, it will improve your overall health and well-being.
- If you are over the age of 50, speak to your healthcare provider about a colorectal cancer screen. There are several types of tests available and your doctor can help you decide which is best for you.
- Limit the intake of alcohol.
- Do not smoke.
- Eat a healthy diet that consists of veggies, fruits, cereals, nuts, whole wheat and fish. At the same time, limit the intake of saturated oils and meat.
If you are over the age of 50, there is no reason to wait as this type of cancer is a serious matter. Encourage your friends and loved ones to get screened regularly, stay active and eat a healthy diet. All of us can make a difference in fighting this preventable disease.
Thanks for reading!
Contributor: Kim Farmer of Mile High Fitness & Wellness. Mile High Fitness & Wellness offers in-home personal training and corporate wellness solutions. Visit www.milehighfitness.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org