When it comes to colorectal cancer, prevention is paramount. And prevention is the message in March, which is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
Aside from skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S., affecting 1 in 20 people. This year, an estimated 95,500 will be diagnosed with colon cancer and an additional 40,000 people will be diagnosed with rectal cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. In addition, about 50,000 people will die from the disease.
That’s why routine screenings for colorectal cancer are so important.
Due to the increase in colorectal cancer diagnoses in younger patients, the American Cancer Society now recommends that screenings begin at 45 instead of 50. Those with a family history should begin screenings 10 years prior to the age when an immediate family member was diagnosed.
Colon cancer screenings detect abnormalities within the colon, such as polyps or early-stage cancers.
“All colon polyps don’t necessarily develop into cancer, but most colon cancers do begin as polyps,” says Amrit Singh, M.B.B.S., a Mayo Clinic Health System medical oncologist. “Finding and removing these polyps can help prevent cancer from developing.”
Screening methods include a traditional colonoscopy and an at-home test, Cologuard, which Mayo Clinic helped develop. This test uses a stool sample to test for cancer DNA. Talk to your health care provider to see if this may be an option for you.
The results of your initial screening exam determine how often you need follow-up screening. In addition to getting those tests as recommended, you can take these steps in your daily life to lower your risk of colon cancer:
- Exercise most days of the week.
- Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Quit smoking.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
Drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all.