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It’s time to stop putting off this important cancer screening

It’s time to stop putting off this important cancer screening

After 2+ years of living in the pandemic, health professionals are worried that another health crisis may be on the horizon: people have been forgoing their yearly health screens and check-ups—and that can pose a serious risk. Screening is the first life of defense against many serious issues, including cancer, and it’s essential for people to stay up to date as they age.

We get it, this topic is no fun. But it’s still really, really important. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and we’re on a mission to raise awareness and encourage people to come in for their recommended screening, especially if you are experiencing any unusual-for-you symptoms. The American Cancer Society recommends that people with average risk for colorectal cancer should start screenings at age 45.

Colorectal cancer can be deadly if not detected early, and regular screening is the best way to prevent the worst. Here’s what you need to know.

What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer happens when cells mutate and start growing out of control. These out-of-control cells can create polyps (aka, clumps of tissue) that form in the colon or rectum’s inner lining. Over time, polyps may turn into cancer if not removed.

Unfortunately, it’s a pretty common form of cancer. In fact, every year, more than 140,000 people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than 50,000 people die. However, colorectal cancer is preventable and curable when detected and treated early—which is why staying on top of those screenings is so important.

Who is most at risk?

Men and women at any age can get colorectal cancer, but risk significantly increases as you get older, with 90% of cases occurring in people over 50.

Individuals who have a family history of colon cancer or polyps (especially if they occurred at a younger age) are considered to be at increased risk of developing colorectal cancer, and may need to start screenings earlier. Talk to your doctor if someone in your family (including parents, siblings, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and/or cousins) has had colon cancer.

Added risk factors also include a personal history of type 2 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis.

Female doctor talking to patient

What is a screening and who needs one?

Screening consists of an outpatient procedure called a colonoscopy. During this procedure, patients are lightly sedated while a doctor uses a small flexible tube to detect abnormalities or polyps in the colon or rectum. If the doc finds anything suspicious, it will be removed and sent to a lab for testing.

Don’t worry—while colonoscopies may sound scary, it is a simple and routine procedure. Most patients don’t experience any pain or discomfort whatsoever!

As we mentioned above, the latest guidelines recommend that adults with average risk of colorectal cancer should start screenings at age 45 and be re-screened every 10 years after that. If necessary, your doctor might recommend additional or alternative testing as well.

What symptoms should I watch out for?

It’s really important to know yourself and what’s normal for your body, so you can detect any changes that could be concerning. Contact your doctor ASAP if you notice any of the following symptoms, as they may be signs of colorectal issues:

  • A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days
  • Having the feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so
  • Blood in the stool
  • Recurrent cramping or abdominal pain
  • Unintended weight loss

Is there anything I can do to stay healthy?

In addition to staying on schedule with regular screenings, there are steps you can take to lower your risk of getting the disease. Plus, not only do these tips lower your cancer risks, they also can help you feel good and stay healthy all around:

  • Eat a nutritious, balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, and other high-fiber foods. Get healthy recipes here
  • Avoid foods that are high in fat, and limit consumption of red meat
  • Move your body regularly: whether it’s jogging, dancing, gardening, or walking your dog, the more movement you can incorporate in your day, the better
  • Maintain a body weight that is healthy for you (nutrition and exercise are great strategies for this)
  • Don’t smoke, and only drink alcohol in moderation

Reducing your risk is half of the battle. The best way to keep your colon cancer-free is to schedule routine screening. Click here to find a provider to get screened for colorectal cancer today.

About Dr. Pollack

Scott Pollack

Dr. Scott Pollack specializes in Gastroenterology at West Jefferson Medical Center. He became a healthcare provider because he’s fascinated by the way our bodies work and wanted to be able to share that knowledge with his patients. He strives to help his patients understand what and why things are going on in their GI system, to alleviate their concerns and symptoms. His little something extra…his spare time is spent enjoying time with his wife and four daughters. Click here to learn more