March was first declared National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month back in 1999. It is during this month that we take the time to bring awareness to the prevention and symptoms of colorectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts in the colon or rectum. These two cancers are often paired together as they have several features in common. Most cases of colorectal cancer begin as a growth called a polyp which is found on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. It is important to note that not all polyps become cancer. Many factors determine the likelihood of a polyp becoming cancer including the type, size, and number of polyps found. It is critical to have all polyps examined by your health care professional.
Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer include:
- Change in bowel habits
- Feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely
- Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
- Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Weakness or fatigue
If you notice blood in your stool or an ongoing change in bowel habits, make an appointment with your physician.
General guidelines recommend colorectal cancer screenings begin at age 50. If you have a family history, or several risk factors, your doctor may recommend earlier screening.
Reducing your risk
Common lifestyle choices which are recommended for prevention of many other chronic disease are suggested to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer:
- Eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- Exercise at least 30 minutes most days of the week
- Stop smoking
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all
- Maintain a healthy weight