Let’s start with the good news: despite its high incidence rate, colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable and, if it’s found early, one of the most treatable forms of cancer.1 March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so it’s a great time to determine your risk factors, understand the signs and symptoms, find out about screening methods, and learn about prevention.
According to Colorectal Cancer Alliance,2 screening is the best way to reduce your risk of this form of cancer. Everyone over 50, but also those who are considered high risk and those who are showing possible symptoms regardless of their age, should take to their doctor about getting checked.
Who is high risk?
Men and women with:
- a family history of colorectal cancer (an immediate family member, a parent or sibling, who has been diagnosed) or polyps
- a personal history of cancer
- inflammatory bowel disease
- symptoms of colorectal cancer
Symptoms of colorectal cancer
It’s important to note that the most common symptom is no symptom, so screening is incredibly important to help rule out this silent killer.
Other common symptoms include:
- a change in bowel habits including diarrhea, constipation, a change in the consistency of your stool or finding your stools narrower than usual
- persistent abdominal discomfort, like cramps, gas, pain and/or feeling full, bloated or that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
- finding blood (either bright red or very dark) in your stool
- weakness or fatigue
- losing weight for no reason
- nausea or vomiting
Your doctor will give you advice on the best form of screening for you based on your personal history. Common screening methods include a colonoscopy, at-home fecal tests (which test for blood in the stool), and stool DNA, among others.3
Some cringe at the idea of these sorts of tests, but since early detection is so critical for survival, a few moments of embarrassment or discomfort are well worth the effort.
It sounds like a cliché, but the best way to help prevent colorectal cancer, like many diseases, is to try to live a healthy lifestyle. That includes quitting smoking, avoiding or limiting alcohol consumption, eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits and other plant foods, and reducing your intake of red meat and processed meat. Red meats include any meat that is red when raw, including beef, pork and lamb. According to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, we should keep our intake of red meat to 18 ounces per week or less, and completely avoid processed meats like hot dogs, ham, and sausages, if possible.
Increasing your physical activity to 30 to 60 minutes a day and maintaining a healthy body weight are also key prevention strategies.
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