March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month. Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the United States and the 2nd leading cause of death from cancer. Each year 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and over 50,000 people die from this preventable cancer.
According to Dr. Sharma as we get older the risk of developing colorectal cancer increases. 90% of colorectal cancers are diagnosed in people 50 or older, but if everyone 50 or older was screened for colorectal cancer, 60% of the deaths from this cancer could be prevented.
Other than age, risk factors for colorectal cancer include:
- Family or personal history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps
- Physical activity – risk is increased by being sedentary, and decreased with regular exercise
- Weight – obesity increases the risk
- Diet – diets high in red meats and processed meats (cold cuts) increase risk; vegetables, fruits, whole grains decrease risk
- Tobacco – smoking increases risk
- Alcohol – heavier drinking increases risk
- Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Chron’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis)
Dr. Sharma said, unfortunately, colorectal cancer often presents late in the disease process, because it doesn’t cause symptoms early on. If you have any of the following symptoms, you should make an appointment with your primary care physician to evaluate the symptom source:
- Blood with bowel movements
- Unexplained abdominal pain
- A change in caliber (size) of stool
- Any change in bowel movement habits
“It’s frustrating to see people die from colorectal cancer,” said Dr. Sharma, “because with adequate screening it is preventable. Also if caught early in the transition to cancer, it is very treatable and can be cured.
"There are different methods to screen for colorectal cancer. The colonoscopy is the gold standard, but newer techniques are also reasonable options. Anyone 50 or older should discuss having a colorectal cancer screening with their primary care physician to determine the appropriate time for screening. If you have family history of colorectal cancer, or any of the symptoms above, an evaluation can occur at an age earlier than 50.”
As you get older, your risk increases, so don’t delay. Contact SIMED Primary Care to make an appointment to discuss colorectal cancer screenings.