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March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, spotlighting a pervasive form of cancer whose incidence rate is increasing. It's the 3rd most common cancer in the United States, and the 2nd leading cause of cancer death, killing over 50,000 people each year. However, when found early it's highly treatable, and with regular screening for colon polyps and other abnormalities, also preventable.
Colorectal cancer occurs in the colon or rectum. The term colorectal cancer is used to describe colon cancer, rectum cancer, or both. The colon is part of the large intestine or large bowel. The rectum is the passageway that connects the colon to the anus.
Most colorectal cancers develop first as polyps, which are abnormal growths inside the colon or rectum that may later ulcerate, or become cancerous if not removed.
Colorectal cancer, when discovered early, is highly treatable. Even if it spreads into nearby lymph nodes, surgical treatment followed by chemotherapy is highly effective. In the most difficult cases - when the cancer has spread to the liver, lungs, or other sites - treatment can help make surgery an option for many, as well as prolonging and adding to one's quality of life. Research is consistently being done to learn more and provide hope for people, no matter what stage their cancer is in.
The American Cancer Society estimates that over 95,000 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer each year, almost 40,000 will be diagnosed with rectal cancer, and over 50,000 people will die from these diseases. On average, the lifetime risk of developing colon cancer is about 1 in 23 (4.5%) for men and women combined.
Risk factors include:
The colorectal cancer survival rate has been increasing, due to increased awareness and screening. The 5 year survival rate for colorectal cancer found at the local stage is 90% At the regional stage, the survival rate is 71%, and at the distant stage, the survival rate is 14%. There are currently more than 1 million colorectal cancer survivors alive in the United States today.
Colorectal cancer first develops with few, if any symptoms. Be proactive and talk to your doctor about getting screened regularly. If symptoms are present, they may include the following:
Colorectal cancer symptoms can also be associated with many other health conditions. Only a medical professional can determine the cause of your symptoms. Early signs of cancer often do not include pain. It is important not to wait before seeing a doctor. Early detection can save your life.
Remember, the most common symptom is no symptom - which is why colorectal cancer is often called a silent killer. If you're age 50 or older and at average risk, get screened! If you're 50 or younger, but with a family history - get screened! Tomorrow can't wait.
Treatment for colorectal cancer depends on the location of the tumor and the stage of the diagnosis. Treatment may involve:
Screening is the number one way you can reduce your risk of colon cancer and rectal cancer. Despite its high incidence, colorectal cancer is unique in that it is one of the most preventable and, if found early, most treatable forms of cancer. Screening is fairly simple, as there is an option for everyone. If you're over 50, high risk, or showing symptoms, don't put it off! Talk to your doctor about getting screened.
Screening methods include:
While screening is the most important step you can take to prevent colorectal cancer, it's not the only one. You may be able to lower your colorectal cancer risk with some simple lifestyle changes. Be proactive about keeping yourself healthy with these methods:
If you or a loved one gets diagnosed with colorectal cancer, have hope. There are many treatment options, and survival rates in earlier stages of the disease are high. Remember, every man and woman 50 years of age and older should be screened regularly for colorectal cancer. Prevention and early detection could save thousands of lives.
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Be sure to consult with your doctor or a qualified health care professional before taking any medication, supplements, or beginning health regimens.