President Bill Clinton first declared March Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month back in 2000. Since then, every March the Colorectal Cancer Alliance spreads information and awareness about the second most deadly form of cancer. Part of the reason colorectal cancer is so dangerous is that it is not caught soon enough – once symptoms develop, it is often in the later stages of the disease, with recovery near impossible. Read on to learn more about colorectal cancer, why you should not delay your colonoscopy, and risk factors that you can avoid.
Fast Facts About Colorectal Cancer
The terms colorectal cancer and colon cancer are often interchanged, but they do not quite mean the same thing. Colon cancer refers to cancer of the colon only, while colorectal cancer can refer to colon cancer, rectal cancer, or both types of cancer. Colon cancer is confined to the large intestine, while rectal cancer is located in the rectum, which connects the colon to the anus.
Colon cancer typically begins with polyps, which are small growths inside of the colon or rectum. If not removed, they may become cancerous.. One of the most reliable ways to discover polyps or the beginnings of colon cancer is to have a colonoscopy. Although it requires a little bit of preparation, it is a relatively quick and painless procedure that can give your physician insight as to your colonic health.
If colon cancer is caught in the earliest stages, the five-year survival rate is 92 percent, but if it is found in the later stages (IV and above), when symptoms have already developed, survival rates drop to 12 percent. This is why it is so imperative to schedule your colonoscopy.
Colon Cancer Risk Factors
When it comes to risk factors for colorectal cancer, there are risk factors you are in control of and others (such as genetics) that are out of your control. Risk factors you cannot control include:
- Having a first-degree relative with a colon cancer (or similar) diagnosis
- A history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Inherited syndromes, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
- Type 2 diabetes
- African-American race
Other risk factors also affect your predisposition to contracting colon or colorectal cancer. Being overweight or obese is one of the top correlations associated with the development of polyps. Patients are advised to keep their body mass index (BMI) within normal ranges, eat a healthy diet, and exercise regularly. Heavy drinking and alcohol use are also two risk factors associated with colon cancer, as well as consumption of red and processed meats. If you are struggling with weight loss, alcohol consumption, or quitting smoking, it’s best to talk to your doctor about these issues to get the best help. While these are contributing factors to the development of colon cancer, they also can play a very negative role in other aspects of your health as well.
Who Should Get a Colonoscopy?
Until May 2018, the standard guidelines for scheduling a colonoscopy screening were for patients age 50 or older. However, with such a growing number of younger patients developing colorectal cancer, the American Cancer Society lowered the screening guidelines to age 45 for both men and women. For patients with stronger risk factors, such as a first-degree relative with a colon cancer diagnosis, screenings should start perhaps even earlier. Let your doctor know about your family history, as this can affect your own health. It is important to note that despite the change in screening guidelines, most insurance policies have not changed and still cover the first screening colonoscopy beginning at age 50.
Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
The theme of March 2019’s Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is “Don’t assume.” This applies to several different things, but one of the most important things to remember is, “Don’t assume you are too young to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer.” There’s no better time than the present to schedule the colonoscopy you’ve been putting off. For more information about Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, such as survivor stories and fundraising, please visit the Colorectal Cancer Alliance website.
If you need to schedule a colonoscopy, are experiencing other problems or disturbances concerning your gastrointestinal tract, or want more information about healthy weight loss, request an appointment with Dr. Sameer Islam, MD today. Friendly staff and an experienced, thoughtful gastroenterologist can make a colonoscopy procedure much more comfortable.