March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Patients, survivors and advocates use this time as a chance to spread knowledge about colorectal cancer across the U.S. By sharing information about colorectal cancer risk factors, symptoms and screenings, we can push toward an end to the disease that claims nearly 50,000 lives per year.
In an effort to raise awareness, we’re sharing some facts about colorectal cancer that may help to save your life.
1. It is more common than you may think.
According to the National Cancer Institute, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer among men and women, and it is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. Fortunately, there are many different types of tests and screenings available that may help detect the disease before symptoms appear.
2. Five different tests can be used for early detection.
As stated above, there are actions your doctor can take to find colorectal cancer:
- Fecal occult blood test: This test checks a stool sample for blood that may only be visible once under a microscope. If blood is found, that may be a sign of polyps or cancerous cells.
- Colonoscopy: Your doctor uses a scope and light to check inside the rectum and colon for polyps or other abnormalities.
- Sigmoidoscopy: This procedure is essentially the same as a colonoscopy; however, it checks the rectum and the sigmoid, or lower colon.
- Virtual colonoscopy: A series of X-rays called “computed tomography” will be taken of the colon and combined to create detailed images. These images may show any issues that a normal colonoscopy can detect.
- DNA stool test: Similar to the first test mentioned, however this test will check the DNA in stool cells for genetic changes—which can be a sign of colorectal cancer.
3. Age and family history play a big role.
Age is one of the greatest risk factors when it comes to colorectal cancer —over 90 percent of all cases occur after the age of 50. Family history can increase your risk as well. The National Cancer Institute reports that those with a history of colorectal cancer in a first-degree relative have a doubled risk of developing the disease.
4. A healthy lifestyle can act as a preventative measure.
Despite the risks, taking care of your health is an excellent way to prevent numerous diseases. Eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting plenty of exercise are proven methods to decrease the risk of colorectal cancer. Not to mention, avoiding an excessive consumption of alcohol and eliminating tobacco exposure will improve your chances.
5. Polyps are not always cancerous.
If polyps are found after your doctor completes one of the tests mentioned above, that does not necessarily mean you have colorectal cancer. Polyps are growths on the inner lining of the colon or rectum, and when found early, can be removed before they have the chance to turn into cancer. Two types of polyps exist:
- Adenomatous polyps (adenomas): These are the polyps that may sometimes turn into cancer. The stage of cancer is dependent on how deeply these polyps grow into the lining and where they spread.
- Hyperplastic polyps and inflammatory polyps: Fortunately, these polyps are more common. However, they are not pre-cancerous—meaning that they will not evolve into being cancerous.
Make the most out of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month by learning more about the disease and sharing what you find with others. Find out more about raising awareness by checking out the Colon Cancer Alliance’s website.