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March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month


Editor’s note: March National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and Memorial Medical Center is reminding everyone “there is no better time to schedule your appointment to get screened.”

A colonoscopy is a screening that can identify colorectal cancer early, when the odds of successful treatment are greatest. It can also help find polyps that can be removed before they become cancerous. According to the American Cancer Society, you should begin colon cancer screenings at age 45. Those at higher risk may need to begin screening earlier, and more frequently and/or with specific tests.

Whether you begin at 45 or earlier if you’re at higher risk, the most important thing is to prioritize this vital screening when you reach the recommended age. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women, excluding skin cancers. It is also the third leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women. And while the majority of these cases occur in people 50 and older, the disease can occur in men and women at any age.

Fortunately, colonoscopies are an easier procedure than many realize. Shortly before the procedure, you will be given medications to minimize your discomfort. This procedure is so tolerable, in fact, that many people will ask, “When will we start?” only to be told the procedure has already begun. During the approximately 30-minute procedure, any polyps found will be removed by the doctor, and tissue samples will be sent to a lab for a biopsy.

Colonoscopies are critical to diagnosing cancer early because the beginning stages of colorectal cancer can often appear without symptoms. A colonoscopy can detect cancer early, making it much easier to treat. In fact, thanks in large part to colonoscopies, the overall incidence of, and death rates associated with, colorectal cancers have been on the decline for more than a decade. But this downward trend is mostly in older adults. In people younger than 50, rates have been increasing by one to two percent a year since the mid-90s.

Although the early stages of colorectal cancer are often symptomless, there are some common signs of colorectal cancers you should be aware of, according to the American Cancer Society, including:

  • Bleeding from the rectum;
  • Blood in the stool or in the toilet after having a bowel movement;
  • Dark or black stools;
  • Change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a narrowing of your stool, that lasts for more than a few days;
  • Cramping, pain or discomfort in the lower abdomen;
  • Weakness and fatigue; and
  • Decreased appetite and unintentional weight loss.

While these symptoms can also be indicative of other health conditions, you should always talk to your doctor about them so he or she can help you get to the root of the issue and determine the underlying cause.

In addition to scheduling a colonoscopy and keeping an eye out for common symptoms, you can be proactive in preventing colon cancer by living a healthy lifestyle that includes daily exercise, a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting your alcohol intake and eliminating smoking.

Visit www.mmclc.org and www.mmclc.org/colonoscopy.