March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and at Associates in Digestive Health, our main goal is education. Although it is a part of our daily life as a practice specializing in the overall health of your digestive system, we do recognize that not everyone thinks about colorectal cancer every day. However, it’s important to understand that colorectal cancer is a serious disease that will affect tens of thousands of people this year. Although it’s not completely preventable, there are simple screening guidelines as well as lifestyle adjustments that could very well prevent you from getting the disease or save your life if you were to develop it.
Who Gets Colorectal Cancer?
The short answer is that anyone can get colorectal cancer. Although it is most commonly diagnosed in those over 50, with the average age of diagnosis being 68 for men and 72 for women, recent information has caused the American Cancer Society to change their recommendations for preventative screenings. Studies have shown a shift in the ages of diagnosis, with incidents of the disease showing up more in younger people. Instead of starting colonoscopies at age 50, it’s now recommended to start at 45, continuing with regular screenings every 10 years until age 75, then at regular intervals determined by your doctor. Screening times may vary depending on family history or personal history of IBD, your doctor will discuss the variables and risks with you. It is important to note that insurance companies have not adjusted to the recommended screening age of 45 and most will cover the procedure at age 50.
Although anyone can be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, there is a genetic component to it. You are at a higher risk and should let your healthcare provider know if you have a personal or family history of the disease, or have had polyps in your colon or rectum, suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, or have type 2 diabetes. People who are overweight or obese, have an inactive lifestyle, and smoke or drink heavily are also at a higher risk.
Colorectal cancer does sometimes present with symptoms, although not alarming ones in the early stages. The cancer has typically progressed to a later stage once the more severe symptoms show up. Symptoms can be blood in your stool, a change in bowel habits lasting more than a few days, cramping, unintended weight loss, weakness and fatigue, and feeling like you always need to have a bowel movement.
Is Colorectal Cancer Common?
While there are many different types of cancer, some which people talk about more than others, colorectal cancer is the third most often diagnosed cancer in the United States. The American Cancer Society has estimated that more than 50,000 people will die from it this year, which will make it the second most deadly cancer for both men and women combined.
Can I Prevent Colorectal Cancer?
Regular screening colonoscopies are the best way to prevent colon cancer. During the procedure, your doctor can find and remove precancerous polyps. Since everyone is at risk for developing colorectal cancer, the best thing you can do is practice preventative healthcare. Don’t let symptoms go unchecked. If you feel like something is off, make an appointment to see one of our doctors for an exam. While you’re at your appointment, come with as much information as you can about your family and personal history and talk to your doctor about whether it might be necessary to have a colonoscopy.
If you’re nearing age 45 and haven’t had one yet, it’s time to book an appointment for the exam. Colonoscopies are quick, and you’re usually back home in a couple of hours to recover. Additionally, if you’re worried about the burden of paying for the exam, you shouldn’t be. Most health insurance policies will cover the exam, although we do recommend calling your individual provider to find out about your personal benefits.
This year, take your colorectal cancer health and education seriously by coming to our offices for this life saving preventative screening or to find out more about the disease and your personal risk for it.