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Things you need to know about colorectal cancer

By Arin Pelletier

Beaufort County Health Department

March is colorectal cancer awareness month. You might be asking yourself, what really is colorectal cancer? The term colorectal cancer, most commonly known as colon cancer, is a combination of colon and rectal cancer. It begins on the inside of the colon as a benign (noncancerous) clump of cells known as polyps. Over time polyps can eventually turn into colon cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Typically it affects older patients, particularly those ages 50 to 75. Symptoms of colorectal cancer can vary. Symptoms include, but not limited to changes in bowel habits, diarrhea/constipation or change in stool consistency. Some individuals will have rectal bleeding or blood in stool, persistent abdominal discomfort like cramps, gas and pain, feeling as if bowel hasn’t emptied completely, weakness or fatigue, unexplained weight loss.  It is recommended that people with a personal or family history of colorectal cancer get screened earlier and more often.

It is also important to know your risk factors. Having one or more of the following can increase one’s chances of developing colon cancer: being 50 or older, being of African American decent, history of inflammatory intestinal conditions, consuming a diet low in fiber and high in fat, having diabetes, being overweight/obese, smoking, and/or receiving radiation therapy for cancer. Genetic history also plays a role. Although there are many risk factors, there are things you can do through your daily activities to help reduce your risk.

One change you can make is improving your diet — which means increasing your fruit, vegetable, and whole grains consumption, as well as limiting fatty foods. Studies show that increasing physical activity, limiting alcohol consumption, and staying away from tobacco products can also decrease the chances of developing colorectal cancer.

If you are between the ages of 50 and 75 or have a family history of colorectal cancer, take charge of your health and get screened sooner rather than later. There are many different screening tests that are offered, talk to your doctor to find out which screening test is right for you. The tests offered include stool tests, fecal blood tests and colonoscopies.

In addition to preventable measures that can be taken, there are also many treatment measures for people that have colorectal cancer. Doctors say screenings help detect early signs of colon cancer and help give people the greatest chance for a cure, as well as increased survival rates.  Know the signs and know your family history. Be sure to discuss with your doctor regarding the right time to get screened and what screening would be best for you.

For more information regarding colon cancer health call Beaufort County Health Department at 252-946-1902 or Vidant Gastroenterology Washington at 252-946-1573.

Arin Pelletier is an East Carolina University Public Health Intern for the Beaufort County Health Department.