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March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

When you think of the most common cancers, skin, breast and lung cancers might come to mind. But it may surprise you that colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed and second deadliest cancer (when men and women are combined) in the U.S. We just don’t talk about it enough. As a member of the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program, I want to share the following information as we observe National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

An estimated 147,950 cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed in 2020 and about 53,200 people will die from these cancers. In Maryland alone, an estimated 2,570 will be diagnosed and 920 are expected to die of colorectal cancer.

There are reasons to be both optimistic and concerned about colorectal cancer. On the one hand, colorectal cancer rates are declining overall, largely because of increased screening. The colonoscopy—the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening—can detect polyps, growths that can be removed before becoming cancerous, but many people dread the prep that must be done before a colonoscopy.

Now, there are at-home tests (guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT), fecal immunochemical test (FIT) and FIT-DNA test) that may be about as effective at screening. These tests must be done every one to three years compared to every 10 for colonoscopy. If your test results are abnormal, you’d need to follow up with a colonoscopy. But these tests do offer more flexibility and are more affordable for those

without insurance (which covers the colonoscopy).

Unfortunately, colorectal cancer among younger adults is on the rise. According to researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center, if trends continue, by 2030 rates of colorectal cancer among 20 to 34-year-olds will double. Because of this rising rate, the Prevent Cancer Foundation supports the American Cancer Society’s decision to lower the recommended age to begin screening to 45 for those at average risk. (The United States Preventive Services Task Force, which determines most insurance coverage,

continues to recommend screening begin at age 50—although that is under review).

Reduce your risk of colorectal cancer—or even prevent it—by taking these steps:

Take care of your body- Maintain a healthy weight, be physically active, don’t smoke, limit alcohol use, and eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables and fiber and low in red and processed meat.

Know your family history- A personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, or personal history of chronic inflammatory bowel disease can increase your risk. You may need to begin screening earlier.

Know the symptoms- Visit a health care professional if you experience blood in your stool, changes in bowel movements, persistent stomach pains, weight loss, fatigue or vomiting.

Get screened- If you’re of screening age, schedule an appointment with your health care professional to discuss screening.

To learn more, visit

Nicole Beus Harris is the spouse of Representative Andy Harris, M.D. Statistics provided by the American Cancer Society.

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