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Get to know your risk factors during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Get to know your risk factors during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer diagnosed in Americans. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 153,000 people were diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2023 alone. This March during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, take some time to learn about your risk factors and what you can do to protect your health.

The facts about Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

First established by a Presidential Proclamation from President Bill Clinton in 2000, Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is designed to encourage people to learn more about colorectal cancer.

You may have seen survivors or medical professionals wearing a dark blue ribbon to signify colorectal cancer awareness. You can take that one step further by wearing blue on the first Friday in March, which is designated as Dress in Blue Day, to support colorectal cancer awareness.

Understanding your risk factors for colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer is a type of cancer that originates in either the colon or the rectum, two parts of the digestive system, and typically grows quite slowly. During a colonoscopy, precancerous polyps can be detected and removed before colorectal cancer develops.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends people at average risk of colorectal cancer begin regular screenings starting at age 45. If you have risk factors for the disease, though, you may need to start screening earlier or be screened more often.

Risk factors for colorectal cancer include:

  • Being Black
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having a personal or family history of colorectal cancer
  • Having a personal history of adenomas, a specific type of colorectal polyp
  • Having certain genetic syndromes such as Lynch syndrome
  • Having ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
  • Smoking

If you have any risk factors for colorectal cancer, talk with your primary care provider, who can help you decide on a screening regimen that will work best for you.

What you can do to protect your health

While many of the risk factors for colorectal cancer are beyond your control, some of them are related to your lifestyle habits. That means you can take steps to protect your colorectal health:

Move your body often. Regular exercise can help you lower your risk of colorectal cancer and many other conditions. Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (brisk walking, jogging or swimming) each week.

Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, work with a medical provider to find a way to quit. Studies show that smoking increases the risk of colorectal cancer by up to 60%, and it also increases the risk of mortality in those who have the disease.

Limit your alcohol intake. If you don’t drink, there’s no health reason to begin. If you do drink alcohol, stick with moderate drinking. That means no more than one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men.

Know the symptoms. Monitor your digestive health and check in with your primary care provider if you notice any changes. Symptoms can include changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation or unusually shaped stool, blood in the stool, bloating, weight loss with no known cause, and extreme fatigue.

Don’t be fooled by your age. Once thought to be a condition that primarily affected older adults, colorectal cancer is now increasingly being diagnosed in young adults. Colorectal cancer can be most easily treated when diagnosed early, so don’t let embarrassment keep you from seeking care when something doesn’t seem right.

Be screened. Sometimes colorectal cancer has no symptoms, especially in its earliest stages. That’s why regular screenings are an essential tool for preventing colorectal cancer. There are different types of colorectal cancer screening, with colonoscopy being the gold standard for detecting and removing precancerous polyps.

When you experience changes related to your digestive health, trust the team of expert gastroenterologists at West Jefferson Medical Center to develop a personalized treatment plan.