March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a time to educate us and champion the importance of screening, prevention and treatment. Colorectal (colon) cancer is the fourth-most diagnosed cancer and the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States. This type of cancer typically occurs in older adults. However, younger individuals are also being diagnosed – even on the rise with 12% more diagnoses from previous years.
Thankfully, there are several screening methods available to help in preventing this type of cancer. It’s important to talk to your physician about your family history and risk of colorectal cancer. Typically, screenings begin at age 45, but if you are at an increased risk of developing colon cancer, your physician will guide you as to when you should start getting screened.
Even though we can’t change our genetics, we do have the ability to lower our risk with lifestyle changes. Likely unsurprising that many lifestyle factors can increase our risk for colorectal cancer, such as lack of physical activity, a diet low in fruits and vegetables, a low intake of fiber and high intake of processed meats, being overweight or obese, and alcohol and tobacco use.
What might come as a surprise is someone with colorectal cancer may not exhibit any symptoms, which is why it’s vital to get screenings. However, these are the symptoms of colorectal cancer that you should be aware of: a change in bowel habits, rectal bleeding, blood in the stool including dark brown or black stool color, diarrhea, constipation or a feeling that the bowel does not empty completely, abdominal pain and aches and unexplained and unintended weight loss.