March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States and the second leading cause of death from cancers that affect both men and women.
It affects all racial and ethnic groups and is most common in people ages 50 and older. The best way to prevent colorectal cancer is to get screened regularly starting at age 50. There are often no signs or symptoms of colorectal cancer – that’s why it’s so important to get screened.
People over age 50 have the highest risk of colorectal cancer. You may also be at higher risk if you smoke, are African American, or have a family history of colorectal cancer or polyp. Everyone can take these healthy steps to help prevent colorectal cancer:
• Get screened starting at age 50
• Encourage your family members and friends over age 50 to get screened
• Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke
• Get plenty of physical activity and eat healthy
The risk of developing colorectal cancer increases as you get older. That’s why screening is recommended for everyone age 50 to 75. Other risk factors are:
• Having polyps (growths) inside the colon
• Having a personal or family history of colorectal cancer
• Smoking cigarettes
• Having obesity
• Not getting enough physical activity
• Drinking too much alcohol
• Having certain health conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, that cause chronic inflammation (ongoing irritation) of the small intestine and colon
The most common method to screen for colorectal cancer is a colonoscopy. It is recommended that average risk persons be screened at the age of 50. During a colonoscopy, if a polyp is found, it can be removed or biopsied and examined for diagnosis. Precancerous polyps become cancer. If a precancerous polyp is removed, colorectal cancer can be prevented. If your doctor finds cancer during a colonoscopy, you can take steps to get appropriate treatment right away.
Some people find preparing for a colonoscopy to be unpleasant, but most people agree that the benefits to their health outweigh any discomfort. With anesthesia during a colonoscopy, you likely won’t experience pain during the test.
Preparation for a colonoscopy usually begins several days before the actual procedure. Your doctor may ask you not to eat solid foods for at least 24 hours before your procedure and to follow a liquid diet.
Most colonoscopy procedures last approximately 20 to 30 minutes. You should be able to return to normal activities by the next day.
To find out more about your risk for colon cancer or colonoscopy, talk to your doctor.
Sushil Pandey, MD, is a colorectal surgeon on the medical staff at Abrazo West Campus in Goodyear.