Nationally, the first Friday in March has been designated as "National Dress in Blue Day" to raise awareness of and to encourage everyone to learn about the causes of colon cancer by wearing blue.
What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer is a disease in which cells in the body start to grow out of control. This type of cancer is also referred to as colon cancer or rectal cancer because it starts in the colon or rectum. The colon is the large intestine or large bowel, and the rectum is the passageway that connects the colon to the anus. Sometimes abnormal cell growths, or polyps, form in the colon or rectum. Over time, some of these polyps may turn into cancer. Not counting some kinds of skin cancer, colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in men and women. It is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.
What Are The Symptoms Of Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal polyps and colorectal cancer don't always cause symptoms at first. A person could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it. This is why getting screened regularly for colorectal cancer is so important.
Some symptoms may include:
- A change in bowel habits from what is considered “your normal” (shape or color)
- Change in stool frequency (persistent diarrhea or constipation)
- Dark or bright red blood in your stools
- Persistent feeling that you need to have a bowel movement
- Abdominal discomfort / cramping belly pain
- Diarrhea, constipation, or the feeling that your bowel does not empty all the way
- Gas and bloating
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Systemic: Systemic colon cancer symptoms are those that affect your whole body and include:
- Unintentional weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained Fatigue
What Can I Do To Reduce My Risk?
Almost all colorectal cancers begin as precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. While there is no sure way to prevent colorectal cancer, there are several things you can do that may help lower your risk.
- Schedule a colon cancer screening. More than 90% of people diagnosed with this disease are 50 or older. If you are in this age group, it's important to contact your doctor and get screened.
- See your doctor if you are experiencing persistent change in bowel habits, thin stools, cramping, unexplained weight loss and/or blood in your stool.
- Eat a balanced diet and avoid high fatty foods as those may be linked to colon cancer risks. A diet high in fiber that includes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains has been shown to have a protective effect.
- Maintain a healthy body weight. Body types such as an apple shape (majority of weight around the abdomen) increases the risk of colon cancer more than a pear shape (majority of weight in hips, buttocks, and thighs).
- Don't smoke. This increases your risk for two reasons: inhaled or swallowed tobacco smoke transports carcinogens to the colon, and tobacco use appears to increase polyp size.
- Increase your physical activity. Regular, moderate, and vigorous activity lowers your risk of developing colorectal cancer and polyps, as does limiting the amount of time you sit and lie down.
- Learn your family medical history. Be sure to tell your doctor if a family member has had polyps, colon cancer, or another type of cancer as these may increase your risk.
- Talk to your doctor about your personal medical history. Along with family history, your provider needs to know if you have had previous polyps, certain cancers, or chronic inflammation of the bowel.
How Can I Get Screened?
Several screening tests can be used to find polyps or colorectal cancer. One of the best steps for your health is to have a colonoscopy starting at age 50 or younger based on family history or your risk factors. To schedule a colonoscopy or to pursue other screening options, visit with your personal healthcare provider or call our Gastroenterology department.