March is National Colorectal Cancer Month

Know your enemy during National Colorectal Cancer Month.

With the abundant publicity surrounding breast cancer, pancreatic cancer and skin cancer, one of the deadliest forms of this disease often flies under the radar: colorectal cancer. In fact, only lung cancer claims more lives each year than this indiscriminate killer. That’s what makes National Colorectal Cancer Month the right time to learn about detection, treatment and what you can do to improve your chances of prevention.

What is colorectal cancer?

As the name suggests, colorectal cancer occurs in the colon, rectum or both. It’s estimated that there will be 145,600 new cases in 2019 alone, with more than 101,000 of those cases being colon cancer.

Most cases of colorectal cancer begin as polyps, and can affect men and women, all races, most ages and every ethnic group. While people over 50 are most at risk, the proportion of cases in younger individuals increased from 6% in 1990 to 11% in 2013. For African-Americans, the incidence is about 20% higher than for whites.

The hopeful news is that, if caught early, the five-year survival rate for colorectal cancer is 90%, and there are more than one million survivors in America today.

Know your risk factors

While it’s not known what causes colon cancer in most cases, there are several factors that are known to increase your risk of contracting this disease:

  • Heredity — If you have a parent, sibling or child with colorectal cancer, your risk of developing the disease is two to three times higher.
  • A personal history of colon polyps.
  • A diet low in fiber and high in fat — there are also studies that have found an increased risk from diets high in red meat and processed meat, though results (and opinions) are mixed.
  • A sedentary lifestyle.
  • Obesity — not only does it increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer, obesity increases the risk of death from the disease, compared with people in the “normal” weight range.
  • Smoking.
  • Heavy alcohol use.
  • Diabetes.
  • Genetic syndromes — inherited disorders like familial adenomatous polyposis and Lynch syndrome increase your risk, but are linked to only a small percentage of cases.
  • Prior radiation therapy for cancers of the abdomen.

Learn the symptoms

Knowing what to look for — and taking action promptly — can help improve your odds of survival:

  • Diarrhea, constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool that lasts longer than four weeks
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
  • Persistent cramps, gas or abdominal pain
  • A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
  • Unexplained weakness, fatigue or weight loss

Take evasive action

While there’s not yet a sure-fire way of preventing any type of cancer, there are several steps you can take that are shown to reduce your risk of developing colorectal cancer. Our partners at the Mayo Clinic offer several recommendations for putting the odds in your favor:

  • Get screened — This is your first, best line of defense. If you don’t have any of the risk factors above, you should start getting screened at age 50. If you are at higher risk, start even sooner.
  • Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains — These choices are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, all of which may play a role in prevention.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation — No more than one drink a day for women, two for men.
  • Stop smoking — Easier said than done, but your doctor can help you find a way that works.
  • Exercise — Start out slow and build up to 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. But talk to your doctor first about a routine that’s best for you.
  • Watch your weight — If you’re already at a healthy weight, commit to maintaining it. If you need to lose weight, talk to your doctor about ways to shed those pounds. Reducing your caloric intake and getting more exercise are your best bets.

If you’re due — or like many people, overdue — to begin screening, National Colorectal Cancer Month is the time to start. At St. Clair Hospital, our cancer specialists are nearby to provide the care you need, from prevention, to surgery and treatment, to ongoing support. And our affiliation with the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center assures you of leading-edge expertise close to home.

To learn more, or to schedule your screening, visit your primary care physician. Or call 412.942.5082 today to pre-register to attend St. Clair Hospital’s FREE COLON CANCER SCREENING & WELLNESS DAY, March 9, 2019, 9-11 a.m. in the Hospital’s 4th floor Dunlap Conference Center.