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March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

By Dr. Sudkhara Jonnalagadda

Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the U.S. and the second leading cause of death from cancer in the United States, but it doesn't have to be. It affects both men and women in all racial and ethnic groups and is most common in people age 50 and older.

Colorectal cancer is a cancer that starts in the colon or the rectum. Colon cancer and rectal cancer are often grouped together because they have many features in common.  According to cancer.org, there are over 100,000 new cases of colon cancer each year. Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is 1in 22 for men (4.49 percent) and 1 in 24 for women (4.15 percent).

There is good news! For the past several decades, colorectal cancer deaths have been dropping in both men and women. This can be attributed to early screening and detection and improved treatment plans for those diagnosed with colorectal cancer. The good news is Colorectal Cancer Screening saves lives. The age to begin your screening can vary from person to person and physician to physician. According to the U.S. Preventive Services (www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org), adults age 50 to 75 should be screened for colorectal cancer. The frequency of your tests will be determined by your physician.

Although, the overall death rate has dropping, there is a concerning new trend in colorectal cancer. Deaths from colorectal cancer from those younger than the age 55 have actually increased in the past decade. This has sparked many physicians to lower the recommended age for screening to begin at the age of 45. The website fightcolorectalcancer.org recommends regular screening procedures starting at age 45, regardless of symptoms.

Remember, early detection is key in making the fullest recovery. If caught early, colorectal cancer is highly treatable. Many patients who undergo screening have a polyp removed, or cancer discovered, yet had no idea anything was wrong. It’s not uncommon for those diagnosed early to have experienced no signs or symptoms.

The first sign of colon cancer can vary from patient to patient and many factors can come into play. Most importantly, listen to your body and report any concerning changes in your bowel movements to your physician as soon as possible. Change in bowel habits such as constipation, diarrhea, and bowel incontinence, although usually less serious symptoms, can be a sign of colorectal cancer. Change in the consistency of your stool lasting longer than a couple weeks should also be looked into. Anemia and unintentional weight loss can also be a sign. Blood on or in the stool and/or persistent abdominal discomfort can be symptoms of colorectal cancer so, please, never ignore a warning sign.

Looking at state rankings, cancer.org estimates the state of Georgia to have the ninth highest in estimated new cases of colorectal cancer. Don’t be a statistic. Be sure to have your screening done at the recommended age or earlier if you have a family history of colorectal cancer, have a disorder that increases your risk or past history that could increase your risk.

There are several screening options available including the colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is considered the “gold standard” to diagnose and also gives the physician opportunity to visually examine the small and large intestines and colon, removing any polyps in the process.

For more information on how to get screened please contact Southern Gastroenterology & Hepatology Consultants by calling (912) 384-7275.

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