March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

 

Cancer has become a well-known disease, especially the ‘ribbon’ varieties. While that awareness is important, there are other forms of cancer that we should also be aware of, especially as we age. Colorectal cancer is one of these.

 

Globally, colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer, and it accounts for about 10% of all cancer cases. 65% of all colorectal cancer cases worldwide are found in developing countries.

 

Colorectal cancer is also known as cancer of the colon, rectum, or bowel. It occurs when abnormal cells grow in the rectum, colon or bowel and then begin to spread to other parts of the body.

 

The most common symptoms of colorectal cancer are unexplained changes in bowel habits, blood in the stool, a feeling of fatigue not resolvable with a day’s worth of rest, and unexplained weight loss (the weight loss and fatigue are due to the interrupted function of the intestines during digestion).

 

The typical patient being treated for colorectal cancer is over the age of 50 and had a family history of cancer. However, there are lifestyle factors that can contribute to the risk, such as unhealthy diet (especially one low in fiber), tobacco usage, use of alcohol, obesity and lack of exercise. Colorectal cancer is more prevalent in men than in women. Patients with a history of family history of colon polyps, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis are at greater risk for developing colorectal cancer.

 

Medical experts recommend that patients should have a colonoscopy every ten years once they turn 50 years old as a screening measure. Colonoscopies not only allow doctors to view the condition of the colon, but also detect polyps in the colon at their earliest stages, allowing the polyps to be removed before they have an adequate opportunity to become cancerous. The American College of Gastroenterology estimate that regular colonoscopies decrease the odds of developing colorectal cancer by as much as 70%, even in those with significant risk factors.