March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. According to the CDC, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.
Colorectal cancer is a malignant growth that starts in either the colon or the rectum, which together form the large intestine. The growth often begins as a polyp that develops in the inner lining of the colon or rectum and grows toward the center.
Most polyps are not cancer as only certain types of polyps, called adenomas, can become cancer.
There are many risk factors for colorectal cancer. Older adults, African Americans, and people with a personal history of colon cancer or polyps are at an increased risk for developing the disease.
Those with a family history of colon cancer and people with certain inflammatory diseases of the large intestine are also at greater risk. Risk factors related to lifestyle include being overweight, physical inactivity, diets high in meat, smoking, and heavy alcohol use.
Possible symptoms of colon cancer may include rectal bleeding or blood in your stool, weakness or fatigue, unexplained weight loss, and a persistent change in your bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation.
Colorectal cancer can be diagnosed with colonoscopy, a procedure where the doctor looks throughout the entire colon and rectum with a thin, lighted tube that has a small camera on the end.
It is recommended that people age 50 and over receive regular screening using high-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy.
People with a family history of colon cancer or those with conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease or familial polyposis may need to be screened earlier. Removing a polyp early, when it is small, may keep it from becoming cancer.
There are steps you can take to decrease your risks such as eating plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
Also try to decrease the amount of red and processed meats that you eat and to get regular exercise as it may help to reduce your risk, as can losing weight if you are overweight.
As noted, smoking increases your risk for colon cancer as well as lung and other cancers, so if you smoke, stop.