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March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month — a time to shed some light on the importance of colon cancer screenings.
According to the American Cancer Society, you should begin colon cancer screenings at age 45. Those at higher than average risk may need to begin screening prior to age 45 and more frequently and/or with specific tests.
High risk groups include people with the following:
• A personal history or strong family history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps (growths in the inner lining of the rectum or colon which can turn cancerous).
• A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease or history of radiation to the abdomen or pelvic area to treat a prior cancer.
• A known family history of hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer — excluding skin cancers — diagnosed in both men and women in the U.S. It is also the third leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women. And while most colon cancer cases occur in people 50 and older, the disease can happen to men and women at any age.
The good news is that regular screenings can not only find colon cancer early — making the disease much easier to treat — but can even help prevent colon cancer.
Colonoscopies are an essential component of our fight against colorectal cancers. Most colorectal cancers begin as polyps. The simple procedure of a colonoscopy not only helps us detect the disease early, but it also allows us to find and remove colorectal polyps before they turn cancerous. The benefits can be life-saving.
While not all polyps become cancerous, those that do usually take many years to do so, and colorectal cancer may not show symptoms in the early stages — making regular screenings all the more critical to protecting yourself against the disease. And getting a colonoscopy might be easier than you think.
It’s an easier procedure than many patients realize. The procedure usually takes about 30 minutes, during which time any polyps found will be removed, with tissue samples sent for a biopsy. During the process you will receive sedation and will not feel any pain or remember anything.
When colon cancer does exhibit symptoms, they can include the following:
• Blood in the stool (which may make the stool look dark) or in the toilet after a bowel movement.
• Rectal bleeding with bright red blood.
• Change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a narrowing of your stool, that lasts for more than a few days.
• Cramping or abdominal pain.
• Weakness and fatigue.
• Unintentional weight loss.
While these symptoms can also be indicative of other health conditions, your provider can help you get to the root of the issue and determine the underlying cause.
Talk to your provider about colorectal cancer risks, discuss when a colonoscopy could be right for you and alert your provider to any symptoms that occur.
You can also take additional steps to aid in prevention of colorectal and many other forms of cancer, including daily exercise, a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting your alcohol intake and eliminating smoking.
Call 252-243-7977 to schedule your colonoscopy today.
Mamun Shahrier is a board-certified gastroenterologist at Wilson Gastroenterology located at 2605 Forest Hills Road.