March 6, 2015

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and the perfect opportunity to become educated with the disease that causes the second most cancer-related deaths in the U.S.

Whether you maintain a healthy weight, are under 50 and get regular health screenings, don’t think that colon cancer can’t happen to you. More importantly, if you’re 50 or older, it’s time to get screened for colorectal cancer.

It’s imperative to know that, when discovered early, colon cancer is highly treatable. Colon cancer affects men and women of all racial and ethnic groups and is most often found in people 50 or older. It’s the third most common cancer in the U.S., behind only lung and prostate cancers in men and lung and breast cancers in women.

Though the statistics are eye-opening, colorectal cancer can be prevented. Colorectal cancer screenings are an important part in colon cancer prevention. In fact, if everyone 50 years or older had a regular screening test, as many as 80 percent of deaths from colon cancer could be prevented.

The three main tests save lives. Colonoscopies, a stool blood test and flexible sigmoidoscopy (a procedure which examines the large intestine through the colon) are all great tools at finding problems before they become cancer. In some cases, they can even find cancer early.

Colorectal cancer first develops with few, if any, symptoms. Knowing the symptoms and catching them early could play a significant role in treatment of colon cancer.

Symptoms may include:

• A change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool

• Feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely, rectal bleeding or finding blood (either bright red or very dark) in your stool

• Finding your stools more narrow than usual

• Persistent abdominal discomfort such as cramps, gas, pain or feeling full or bloated

• Losing weight with no known reason

• Weakness or fatigue

• Having nausea or vomiting

In addition to colon cancer symptoms, risk factors may increase the chance of developing the disease. Studies have found the following risk factors for colon cancer:

• Age over 50

• Colon polyps

• Family history of colon cancer

• Genetic alterations

• Hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer, an inherited disorder that increases the risk of many cancers including colorectal cancer

• Familial adenomatous polyposis, an inherited condition that causes polyps to form on the large intestine

• Personal history of cancer

• Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease

• Diet and lifestyle

• Cigarette smoking

Getting regular screenings and educating yourself and loved ones on the above symptoms and risk factors associated with colon cancer could make you one of the more than one million colon cancer survivors in the U.S.

Should you need us, the Mankato Clinic’s Endoscopy Center and Gastroenterology Department is ready to offer you or a loved one the best in medical care with patient-focused, specialized staff. Call 507-389-8509 to request an appointment.