MONTGOMERY, Ala. – During March, Colon Cancer Awareness Month, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) asks Alabamians ages 45 and older to speak with their healthcare provider about screening for colorectal cancer (CRC).
CRC is cancer that occurs in the colon or rectum. CRC affects men and women of all racial and ethnic groups and is most often found in people who are 50 years old or older. According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in 23 men and 1 in 24 women will develop this cancer at some point in their lives. Of cancers that affect both men and women, CRC is the second leading cancer killer in the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regular screening, beginning at age 45, is the key to preventing CRC. The recommended age to start screening was lowered to 45 from age 50 because studies show rates of CRC among younger people are increasing.
Screening can find precancerous polyps—abnormal growths in the colon or rectum—that can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening also helps find CRC at an early stage when treatment works best. About nine out of every 10 people whose colorectal cancers are found early and treated appropriately are still alive 5 years later.
CRC screening tests are as follows. Each test has advantage and disadvantages and should be discussed with your healthcare provider:
- Stool tests
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
- CT colonography (Virtual colonoscopy)
While people ages 45 to 75 years old should be screened for CRC regularly, people younger than 45 who believe they may be at high risk of getting CRC, or people older than 75 should speak with their healthcare provider about screening.
Symptoms are not always present, especially at first. That is why getting screened regularly for CRC is so important. If there are symptoms, they may include the following:
- A change in bowel habits
- Blood in or on your stool (bowel movement)
- Diarrhea, constipation or feeling that the bowel does not empty all the way
- Abdominal pain, aches or cramps that do not go away
- Unexplained weight loss
If you have any of these symptoms, discuss them with your healthcare provider. Symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer.
How can risks of CRC be reduced? The CDC reports that research is underway to learn if changes in diet can reduce CRC risk. Medical experts often recommend a diet low in animal fats and high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains to reduce the risk of other chronic diseases, such as coronary artery disease and diabetes. This diet also may reduce the risk of CRC.
Researchers are also looking at the role of some medicines and supplements in preventing CRC. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force found that taking low-dose aspirin can help prevent cardiovascular disease and CRC in some adults, depending on age and risk factors.
Some studies also suggest that people may reduce their risk of developing CRC by increasing physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol consumption, and avoiding tobacco.
For more information about CRC, go to cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal.