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Colorectal Cancer: 5 Things You Should Know

He noticed he wasn't as hungry as usual over the past few months. She occasionally saw blood in her stool when she had a bowel movement. He had abdominal pain that would come and go. She didn't want to have a colonoscopy because she heard the preparation was a nightmare. He reluctantly had a colonoscopy upon his wife's insistence. She is the youngest of five and her four older brothers all had colon cancer. He never felt like he was fully emptying his bowels after using the bathroom. She lost twenty pounds in three months without even trying.

They all had Colorectal Cancer.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

Colorectal Cancer is any cancer that effects the colon or rectum. You may also hear it referred to as Colon Cancer or Rectal Cancer depending on where the cancer is found.  The colon is a long, coiled, tube-like organ that removes water from the food that you eat. It is also known as the large intestine. At the end of the large intestine, but, before the anus is the rectum.

Here are the top 5 things you need to know.

1. Colorectal Cancer is PREVENTABLE. Screening tests are available for colorectal cancer. These include a colonoscopy (procedure in which a long and flexible tube with a camera is inserted through the rectum) and stool tests. Abnormal tissue including precancerous polyps can be removed during a colonoscopy.

2. Age 50 is the magic number to start having colonoscopies unless you have a strong family history. If you have a strong family history, your physician or advanced practice provider may recommend you have screening earlier.

3. Colorectal Cancer is the SECOND leading cause of cancer deaths among MEN and WOMEN.The older you are, the greater your chance of developing it. This is why it is important to be screened appropriately.

4. Certain risk factors increase your chance of developing colorectal cancer.These include excessive alcohol use, obesity and smoking. Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising helps prevent colorectal cancer.

5. The results of your initial screening and your family history determine how often you need screening. It could be as long as 10 years or as few as 3 years. The gastroenterologist (doctor who specializes in the digestive system, including stomach, rectum and colon) will let you know.

There are treatments (surgery, chemotherapy and radiation) for colorectal cancer but the best treatment is prevention. Preventing a disease is much better than treating a disease. The inconvenience of a colonoscopy is much better than the inconvenience of a cancer diagnosis. If you are nearing the milestone of 50, you owe it to yourself to try to be as healthy as possible. You may find having a colonoscopy is not such a bad birthday present after all.

Are you up to date on your colorectal cancer screening? Who can you encourage to have the proper screening?

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