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What You Need To Know About Colorectal Cancer

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control, colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer, and the second leading cause of death from cancer in the United States.

Dr. Kerry Whitelock of Keystone Internal Medicine shares some important information everyone should know about how to take control of their health.

What Are Some Symptoms Of Colorectal Cancer?

Warning signs include blood in stool, unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain, rectal pain, anemia and a change in bowel habits. It is important to note that these are some common symptoms and are not the only indicators of colorectal cancer. In fact, people with early stages of colorectal cancer often have no symptoms at all. That’s why regular testing is so important.

Who Should Be Screened?

If you are at average risk, you should be screened regularly between the ages of 50-75. Depending on your risk factors, including a family history of colorectal cancer, your doctor may recommend screening earlier than 50 or later than 75. Screening is not recommended for those older than 85 years of age.

Other factors that can put people at a higher risk include being overweight, tobacco and alcohol use, lack of exercise, a diet that is high in fat and low in fiber, and health conditions including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

What Testing Options Are Available?

The most commonly known testing method is the colonoscopy. This procedure allows the doctor to view the inside of the colon, and to remove any polyps, or abnormal growths, that are found. There is a prep protocol that must be followed, but it is short-term and allows the gastroenterologist to view the entire colon. The colonoscopy itself is usually painless as anesthesia is used for patient comfort. If the results are normal, most people will not require another screening for 5-10 years.

A yearly fecal immunohistochemical test, or stool FIT test, is an alternative screening method. No prep or dietary restrictions are involved. This is a stool test that can be done in the privacy of your own home and is then mailed away for the results. If the results are negative, the patient does another FIT in a year. If the results are positive, then the patient needs to have a colonoscopy for further evaluation.

It is important to not put off screening because colorectal cancer can be detected at a curable stage in patients who have no symptoms. Several studies show that people who undergo screening have lower mortality rates than patients who do not get screened. There is no best strategy to screening for colorectal cancer. The best strategy is the test that the patient can consistently carry out. If you are between the ages of 50-75, have a family history of colorectal cancer, or are experiencing any symptoms, now is the time to talk to your doctor.

 

This article contains general information only and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or care by a qualified health care provider.