2012-03-28 / Health

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Colorectal cancer screening saves lives. If everyone who is 50 years old or older were screened regularly, as many as 60% of deaths from this cancer could be avoided.

Among cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Every year, more than 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than 50,000 people die from it.

How Can You Reduce

Your Risk?

The risk of getting colorectal cancer increases with age. More than 90% of cases occur in people who are 50 years old or older. Colorectal cancer screening saves lives, but many people are not being screened according to national guidelines.

If you’re 50 years old or older, getting a screening test for colorectal cancer could save your life. Here’s how—

Colorectal cancer screening tests can find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. In this way, colorectal cancer is prevented.

Screening tests also can find colorectal cancer early, when treatment often leads to a cure.

What Are the

Symptoms of

Colorectal Cancer?

Precancerous polyps and colorectal cancer don’t always cause symptoms, especially at first. You could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it. That is why having a screening test is so important. Symptoms for colorectal cancer may include—

Blood in or on the stool (bowel movement).

Stomach pain, aches, or cramps that do not go away.

Losing weight and you don’t know why.

These symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer. If you’re having any of these symptoms, the only way to know what is causing them is to see your doctor.

When Should You Begin to Get Screened?

You should begin screening for colorectal cancer soon after turning 50, then keep getting screened regularly. Some people have a higher risk because they have inflammatory bowel disease, a personal or family history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer, or genetic syndromes like familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (also known as Lynch syndrome). If you are 50 years old or older, or think you may have a higher risk for colorectal cancer, talk to your doctor about getting screened.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends screening for colorectal cancer for all people until they turn 75 years old, and for some people when they are older than 75. If you are in this age group, ask your doctor if you should be screened.

What Are the

Screening Tests for

Colorectal Cancer?

Several tests are available to screen for colorectal cancer. Some are used alone; others are used in combination with each other. Talk with your doctor about which test or tests are best for you. The USPSTF recommends these tests—

Colonoscopy (every 10 years).

High-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT), also known as a stool test (every year).

Flexible sigmoidoscopy (every 5 years) with highsensitivity FOBT (every 3 years).

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