Let’s talk about colon cancer...
We need to talk about colon cancer. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men and women. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined. But the good news is that it is also one of the most preventable cancers, so I am sharing vital information as we observe March as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
An estimated 151,030 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 52,580 are expected to die of the disease in 2022. In 2022 in Maryland: it is estimated that 2,540 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed and that there will be 980 deaths from the disease. Many people think of colorectal cancer as a cancer that affects only older adults, but younger adults are increasingly being diagnosed. Rates in people under age 50 are increasing, and they are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage (when the cancer is more advanced and harder to treat), see two or more doctors before getting diagnosed, and have a family history of colorectal cancer. So, even if you think you are too young for colorectal cancer, adults of all ages need to be aware of the risk factors, symptoms and early detection.
Being overweight or obese, not getting enough physical activity, eating a diet high in red or processed meats, smoking and heavy alcohol use are all risk factors for colorectal cancer. African Americans are 20% more likely to be diagnosed than most other racial groups in the U.S. Other risk factors include having inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, having a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps (precancerous growths), and having certain genetic syndromes.
Although you may not experience symptoms at first, signs to look out for include blood in or on your stool, stomach pain, aches or cramps that don’t go away, a change in bowel habits (like diarrhea or constipation) lasting more than a few days, and unexplained weight loss.
Colorectal cancer can be prevented with early detection. Screening can detect precancerous polyps that can be removed or monitored before they develop into cancer. In 2021, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) released new recommendations for colorectal cancer screening, giving a “B” recommendation for screening people of average risk ages 45-49. Insurance companies are now required to cover screenings in this age group as they do for adults ages 50 to 75. The colonoscopy is the “gold standard” for colorectal cancer screening, but there are also at-home stool tests that are also effective. Talk to your health care provider about your options and how often you should be screened. If you are at higher risk, your provider may recommend starting screening sooner or getting screened more often.
Act now to reduce your risk for colorectal cancer. To learn more, visit www.preventcancer.org/colorectal.
Nicole Beus Harris is the spouse of Representative Andy Harris, M.D. and a member of the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program. Statistics provided by the American Cancer Society.