March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colorectal Cancer (CRC) is a cancer that occurs in both the large intestine and rectum, which starts as small noncancerous clumps of cells called polyps. According to the CDC, it is the second most common cancer in American Indian/Alaskan Native populations in the United States. It is also the second leading cause of death due to cancer.
CRC affects men and women and are often found in people who are 50 years old or older. Early detection is the key to defeating it and why regular screenings with a trusted healthcare professional is so vital.
Common risk factors of developing CRC include:
- Being over 50 years of age
- Alcohol consumption
- Cigarette smoking (not including traditional tobacco for ceremonial purposes)
- Lack of physical activity
- Low-fiber and high-fat diet
- Diet high in red and processed meats
- Overweight and obese
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Personal or family history of CRC
Getting screened for CRC to detect precancerous growths is the easiest way to treat and remove them. It is recommended to get screened starting at age 45, or earlier, especially if symptoms are present. These can include blood in or on stool, stomach pains and aches or cramps that don’t go away.
There are three tests that most accurately identify CRC. The first is a colonoscopy, the second a flexible sigmoidoscopy and the last, a stool test. Each test is valuable to being proactive toward your colon health.
- Visual tests: colonoscopy and flexible sigmoidoscopy
- A healthcare provider looks directly in the colon at a clinic or medical facility to determine if there are any polyps present and makes a plan for removal.
- Stool-based tests: stool test
- Every 1-3 years you can take this test at home by mailing or returning a sample of your stool (bowel movement) to your clinic and if there is blood present a visual test is required.
Since Colorectal Cancer affects both men and women of all racial and ethnic groups, it is important to make an appointment with your healthcare provider to talk about any potential risk factors. Most insurance providers and Medicare help pay for CRC screenings, so be sure to ask which test may be best for you.
Make a plan to live a healthy lifestyle. Start today!